It’s about time Indigenous restaurants finally made their way onto Toronto’s dining scene. The latest to debut is Kūkŭm Kitchen (Kūkŭm name means “grandmother” in Cree) on Mount Pleasant.
Discover what makes it stand out:
1. Chef Joseph Shawana (previously of Snakes & Lattes) was raised on Wikwemikong Unceded Indian Reserve on Manatoulin Island with seasonal ingredients, land-sourced, foraged foods and plants, wild meat and fish. This is the kind of food you’ll find here.
2. The menu “reflects my interpretation of the ingredients of what I grew up with, with French technique,” Shawana says. “It’s my story on a plate.”
3. Choose from a tasting menu ($78, with wine pairings $119), as well as à la carte selections ($8-$28).
4. Ingredients run the gamut: From salmon, halibut, arctic char and elk – which you’re no doubt familiar with – to foraged items including pine needles, milkweed pods, spruce tips, sweet grass, cattail hearts, and Saskatoon berries.
5. But most likely it will be the seal, served raw (Seal Tartare [$20] with Bannock Crostini, topped with Quail Egg) that will stop you in your tracks. While other restaurants across Canada have served it with great controversy, Kūkŭm Kitchen is currently the only restaurant in Toronto to serve it.
Shawana says the federal government strictly regulates the meat. “I educated myself on the company. There are no negative reviews, no battles with animal rights groups.” The dish, he says, is “a way to pay homage to the northern communities. A way to say thank you for everything you’ve done.”
6. The menu does not include dairy, beef, pork or chicken, in keeping with Indigenous cuisine.
7. Shawana says neighbourhood residents, many of whom are of European and Eastern European descent, have remarked they’ve missed wild game, until now.
8. The restaurant is filled with Indigenous artwork, including a mural along the back wall by Aura and Chief Ladybird – most are traditional works (such as birch bark bitings and table runners made by a woman from Six Nations), with some more contemporary pieces added in. The dining room features warm woods (even the lights are covered in wood slats) and colourful accents.
9. The dinner-only restaurant (with lunch and possibly brunch soon to come) features exclusively local wine and beer. Wine is sourced from Niagara, and beer and sprits are from Ontario and Quebec.
10. Kūkŭm Kitchen (581 Mt Pleasant Rd.) accommodates 30 guests, Wednesday to Saturday, from 5 to 10 pm.
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