Around Town: Teaming up for First Nations food

There was more than delicious native cuisine on the menu during Thursday’s launch for Songhees Seafood and Steam food truck at Victoria Clipper’s Belleville Street terminal.

There was a palpable spirit of collaboration as tourism officials, First Nations members and community and business leaders gathered on a hot, sunny morning to celebrate the arrival of the newest addition to Victoria’s thriving food truck scene. It was the culmination of a partnership between Songhees Nation and Victoria Clipper that underscored the “great minds think alike” maxim.

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The joint venture was hatched two years ago when Songhees Nation Chief Ron Sam and Clipper founder and chairwoman Merideth Tall realized they both shared a vision for a food truck.

“It was truly a team effort to get us to where we are today,” said Sam following a ceremonial performance by Lekwungen Traditional Dancers.

“This is about true collaboration,” said Tourism Victoria CEO Paul Nursey. “We’re seeing a real alignment in the tourism sector of objectives between industry, First Nations and government, whether it’s the Belleville Terminal or having great new experiental products like this. We’re working together like we never have before.”

David Roger, the award-winning former executive chef at the Victoria Marriott Inner Harbour, is the culinary mastermind for the food truck, staffed by three cooks and two cashiers.

Indeed, while the lively launch wasn’t as fancy or elaborate as the launch of Riyadh Marriott’s Terrace Grill in Saudi Arabia that he oversaw, it’s a labour of love.

“I wanted to try something different,” said Roger, whose menu includes Indian tacos, wild sockeye salmon burgers, bison burgers, gluten-free bannock bread, salmon salad, clam chowder, pastries and a full espresso bar. Healthy options include crispy greens with honey and lavender vinaigrette dressing, candied walnuts and dried cranberry; and a romaine salad with bannock croutons and Salt Spring Island cheese.

Potential adds-on include candied smoked sockeye salmon, wild sockeye salmon and venison garlic and herb sausage.

As part of the partnership, Roger will train Songhees community members at the Songhees Wellness Centre kitchen to staff the truck through a Camosun College-supported Red Seal apprenticeship program.

“Our overall vision is that once this is established and he has some free time he would turn his attention to our [Songhees Wellness Centre] industrial kitchen,” said Sam.

“Last year he put a sockeye salmon burger together that was the talk of the [Aboriginal Cultural] Festival,” Sam recalled. “We had people tweeting about how it maybe should be a food truck item and now it is.”

Familiar faces included Rev. Ian Powell, general manager of the Inn at Laurel Point. He is also an Anglican minister who does Christ Church Cathedral’s early-morning mass on Thursdays.

“It takes my guests by surprise sometimes,” laughed Powell, who wears his collar each Thursday.

Powell is an old friend of Tall, whose tourism enterprise brings 220,000 visitors to the capital region each year.

“They are our American partners, so they don’t have to be cognizant of First Nations stuff unless they want to,” he noted. “The fact that they are means there is a genuine base to them.”

Retired accountant Walter Creed and his wife Pam were there to support Songhees Nation and Roger, Creed’s son-in-law.

“They’ve got a captive audience for hours before a sailing, so this is a natural,” said Creed. “And. David loves teaching so teaching young people to become servers, cooks and so on is a perfect thing for him.”

Paul Rayman, the Victoria film producer (Gracepoint) and co-owner of The Pedaler, the guided bicycle tours and rentals business based in Huntingdon Manor Hotel, was among the Victoria Clipper tourism partners excited about the food truck’s arrival.

“It’s fantastic because two questions we often get are ‘Where can we get good seafood?’ and “Is there anything somewhat native to the area we can try?’’ he said. “This is about as native as you’re going to get.”

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