Inuit chef: local food is in our DNA

Inuit chef: local food is in our DNA

When you visit a local supermarket in Iqaluit, Nunavut, it is difficult to find local produced food. The shelves are filled with imported food at unbelievably high prices. The food prices are more than 35% higher than in the rest of Canada.

But this is not the only reason that chef Sheila Flaherty is on a mission to promote local food and local ingrediencies in Nunavut. She believes the high prices are merely a symptom of what is wrong. “Food is culture. What we eat is inherited through generations and this is what connects us to the place we live. It is simply in our DNA”, says Flaherty.

Sheila Flaherty is renown throughout Canada for being the first Inuit to participate on MasterChef Canada. She has cooked for the visiting royal family and designed menus for First Air and for Ottawa’s A Taste of the Arctic festival. Now she is opening her own guesthouse and restaurant in Iqaluit.

“There are no places to eat indigenous food in Iqaluit, so my husband Johnny and I decided to make that our mission in life” Flaherty tells. Their place is opening in 2023 and with a view over the Frobisher Bay, it is obvious to call it Sijjakkut, which means “By the seaside”. They hope this can be part of attracting more people to visit Nunavut: “I want more people to come to us and try Inuit food. With the food and the stay, we will mimic the intimacy of Inuit life. And we hope to attract a new type of traveller to Nunavut.”

Flaherty believes their place can serve as an inspiration to others, both tourists who have never tried Inuit food and locals. “It’s important that, we’re seeing people like myself creating dishes where we stand firmly on our traditions but are not afraid to be inspired by new methods and world kitchen,” she says. “Through knowledge from our forefathers and inspiration from around the world, we can renew our pride in our own food, and hopefully in the future use more local food and import less.”

Sheila Flaherty has been part of the New Arctic Kitchen since she participated in a seal meat workshop in Nuuk in 2019. “If we want to develop our food culture, it is important we work together and inspire each other across the Arctic region” says Flaherty, “we have many of the same conditions, we have used the same methods and all of us are closer to nature than most people in the world. If we lift this together, we can raise the health in our local communities, create more local jobs and get a stronger sense of our own cultures.”