A desert in a bowl with sugar-covered dough, some ice cream, chocolate sauce, fruit, and a small edible flower. Photo Credit: Tamara Green

Culinary Interconnectedness: Tamara Green

May 26, 2021

Photo Credit: Tamara Green

Our next Creative In Residence profile brings us in conversation with chef and instructor Tamara Green. Her work focuses on pre-contact ingredients and her personal chef company, Indigenesis (external site), works to re-integrate Indigenous foods and cooking methods.

In this story, we learn more about Tamara’s relationship to food and her upcoming Ontario Culture Days 2021 Festival project.

Tamara began her journey into Indigenous cuisine when she wanted to find traditional meals to make her Mohawk grandfather. 

“I first started cooking when I was very young, helping my parents in the kitchen,” Tamara recalls. “I guess I showed a particular aptitude or eagerness for it, because I clearly remember being five and my father suggesting to me that I could open my own restaurant when I’m older.”

Through Indigenesis, Tamara looks to teach people about what Indigenous cuisine looked like before colonisation, working throughout Durham Region and the Peterborough area. The Port Perry-based company is the only one of its kind, providing pre-contact ingredient-based catering centered around the Great Lakes region, and surrounding Indigenous nations.

“The idea of culinary and working with my hands—it was something that was never far from me. It seemed so natural, like, that’s what I was made to do, in part.”

Through her cooking, Tamara seeks to make visible and nuanced the interconnections between local Indigenous and nearby settler communities. 

“For me, recipes start with the land,” Tamara explains. “In the technological era that we’re in right now, we can easily get detached from what’s directly outside our door. Re-integrating Indigenous food has served as a reminder of that.”

During her 2021 Creatives in Residence, Tamara will explore the process of foraging, raising awareness and visual literacy around foods found in nature. This ties in with her work, which encourages responsible foraging practices, emphasizing environmental stewardship and respect for the land.

“I am Mohawk, Iroquois. We are a tribe that did agriculture; we were semi-nomadic. It was important to know how to identify plants, and how to get the most use out of them for the entire year. Considering winter in Canada, we had to learn how to preserve these foods: what is unique about this land, and what separates it from the rest of the world. Food shapes our mindset and culture.”

Foraging, for Tamara, is not the act of taking, but rather it is similar to pruning; the act of making room for growth. She explains, “You are trying to collect these items in such a way that actually encourages proper eco-balance. That actually encourages these plants to grow stronger, because not only do you want to keep foraging this year after year, you want it to be available for others to forage year after year.”

A carefully crafted plate of food is arranged with a sauce and some vegetables.
Photo Credit: Tamara Green

It’s important to be mindful, Tamara reminds us. “It’s not just our food. Animals are out here every day and they are eating these things. You don’t want to remove their food source.”

She draws links between people and the land in foraging techniques as well: “To gather, cut the leaves off at the base of the tender stems—always cut, do not pinch or tear. The act of pinching leaves rough, exposed edges that will heal slowly and scar. Just like humans heal quick from a clean cut, so do plants.” 

This relationship-first approach to cooking shines through in her 2021 Creative in Residence project with Ontario Culture Days. Throughout the summer, Tamara will release a series of videos teaching participants how to look for in-season foods as well as how to cook with local, wild, edible ingredients. During the fall festival, she’ll work with foraging guide Bryan Dowkes to lead an outdoor program in the Scugog area.

Header photo: Tamara Green

You can check out our full list of 2021 Creatives in Residence here.