As opening executive chef at Fogo Island Inn’s Dining Room, Murray McDonald scored a raft of awards for his ‘New Newfoundland’ cooking from ingredients foraged from the land and sourced from the icy sea, including a place on Air Canada enRoute’s 10 Best New Restaurant list and the prestigious World’s 50 Best by Diners Club Discovery Series. But in his move to The Bear, the Fish, the Root and the Berry at Spirit Ridge Resort in Osoyoos, chef McDonald is doing more than swapping icebergs for the desert, he’s discovering his Indigenous roots.
“There was a part of my family which I didn’t even know existed.” Explains McDonald. “I was a teenager when mum told me that her mum’s heritage was in the Indigenous People of Labrador. Living in Newfoundland and being a mixed Indigenous woman back in my grandmother’s time, she wouldn’t talk about it and she hid it. My mother started looking into her roots after my grandmother died, and she traced her family back to my great, great grandmother who was Innu. It seems like she was taken from her people by Christian missionaries and given to ‘a good Christian family’ to raise and those roots were cut. It was history I should have known about and been brought up with.”
It was a chance meeting with an Indigenous chef that started McDonald on his path to the Okanagan, “I cooked a lot over the fire and foraged at Fogo Island, and he said, ‘Chef, you’re cooking Indigenous food.’ And he was right, I just felt like I was getting back to Newfoundland food, but it was deeper than that.” That meeting led to a variety of collaborations and projects promoting Indigenous cuisine, but eventually, McDonald felt that it was time to go somewhere new and really commit to Indigenous cooking and the opportunity at Spirit Ridge seemed the perfect fit.
“I saw this role and thought, yes, it’s on Osoyoos Indian Band land and it was a chance to do Indigenous food. We were talking about names, one of the names proposed was The Bear, the Fish, the Root and the Berry; I said if you call it that, I’m on board! It’s the coolest name ever. It’s the story of the four food chiefs and that’s reflected in our menu. I love that the children in the schools here even learn all about the food chiefs, my kids have been harvesting berries, releasing salmon and picking bitterroot!” McDonald believes that Indigenous culture and food go hand in hand, “It’s about being a survivalist,” he explains. “It’s why Indigenous cultures have such mad respect for the land; if you don’t take care of it, you won’t live. And there’s that same respect for Elders too, because they teach you how to survive, which you then pass on.”
Reflecting on his journey back to his Indigenous roots, McDonald is humbled by the welcome he’s received: “I’ve been reaching out to meet new people and learn more and they all want to teach me things and tell me stories. For people who have been through such hardship to be so welcoming it just shows the kind of heart and soul that they have.”