There are just two remaining Nunavut folks we’d like to share with you: Titaaq, a hunter who is carrying on the tradition of country food, and Kelly, a trained chef who both prepares country food and reinvents Inuit cultural foods.
Titaaq is a government worker by day, and a pretty badass hunter the rest of the time. He hunts many animals, but primarily caribou, and will drive up to 16 hours on a snowmobile to find the herds.
He typically takes trips between three days and one week, but he always packs extra supplies just in case of unforeseen circumstances. Sometimes he’s with one or two other people, but other times he’s completely alone. Titaaq has also trained all of his four of his sons in the tradition of hunting. By the time his boys were ten, they were all capable of navigating the tundra and hunting for food. His older sons now even go on hunting excursions without their father.
Hunting trips in northern weather conditions require a more intimate understanding of the land than I will ever know. He has to maneuver through vast stretches of land, avoid fatal run-ins with wildlife, and be prepared for adverse weather. The coldest weather he’s ever hunted in was -68 degrees Celsius, and even more impressively, when he’s skinning the animals HE DOESN’T WEAR GLOVES. Gloves get in the way of his ability to handle the knife, so to keep his hands warm, he tucks them under the skin of the still-warm animal as he works. At night he'll sleep both on and covered by a tanned caribou skin. He said the warmest sleeping bag on its own simply will not keep you alive - an additional caribou skin is vital.
Like many others we talked to, Titaaq loves country food. There is one food, however, he won’t eat, and that’s polar bear (unlike Monica, whose eyes lit up when she talked about the satisfying flavour of polar bear paw). Titaaq won’t eat polar bear because when the bear is skinned, its anatomy resembles a giant human: chest muscles, calves, forearms, and so on. There’s a chilling little factoid for you.
Later, we joined Kelly Clark for a meal in her sunny home. She was nine months pregnant, and her house was filled with family and the smell of baking. Kelly is not Inuit, but she was born and raised in the north. Her parents are from Nova Scotia, moved to Rankin in their 20’s, and never left. Kelly attended culinary school on PEI (the same one as Megan and Edward!) and she thrived as a student; she was even chosen to go to Germany and compete for Team Canada at an international culinary competition.
With her culinary expertise, Kelly eventually returned home to Rankin Inlet, and started catering for the community. She talked about the difficulties of trying to prepare for larger events when much of what she does hinges on supplies arriving irregularly by plane or barge. She prepares and serves a mix of very traditional food, some more international-influenced foods, and a fusion of the two.
She very kindly made us a lunch of arctic char sushi (hello fusion cuisine!) and a partridge berry cake with butter sauce. It’s not often you run into a sauce so unashamed of its primary ingredient, so we celebrated its candidness with a second slice. Huge apologies - we somehow lost our photos from this day (where did you take them, universe!?), but we can offer up a photo of this cake, which looks very similar to what Kelly served us.
At Kelly’s house, we also got to see some amautis she’d sewn. Amautis are hand-stitched Inuit parkas designed to carry children up to two years old in the hood. Mothers can carry their children through cold weather with the child tucked into the hood so it won’t feel the icy winds. We’d seen them all around the town, and marveled at their ingenuity. This might make you sorely aware of the inadequate design of your own winter gear.
Titaaq and Kelly were brilliant examples of the strength and resilience required to live in the north; it was stories like these that were particularly great to remember as we boarded our Calm Air flight back to Winnipeg, reunited with our tiny car, and hit the much less wintry roads back to Vancouver. That’s right, we’re done!
Stay tuned for a few final sign-off posts, and eventually a note about what’s next for FEAST….
ps - Did I mention the lunch provided on the Calm Air flight was catered by Winnipeg’s favourite home-grown bakery, Stella’s? Best plane food ever!