It was a packed house of policy makers, lobbyists and media that filled the softly lit National Arts Centre lobby Tuesday to get their fill of traditional Inuit food and entertainment at the fifth annual A Taste of the Arctic event.
The evening is put on each year by Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, an advocacy group working to promote the environmental, social, cultural, health and political interests of Canada’s nearly 60,000 Inuit. Formed in 1971, the group aims to bring a piece Arctic culture to Ottawa.
This year NAC executive chef John Morris offered up a number of unique and modern dishes made with Arctic-sourced ingredients like muskox, buttery smoked Arctic char, caribou two ways and, for the first time, maktaaq chicharrón, a deep fried beluga skin crackling served with spicy vinegar dipping sauce.
Traditionally, maktaaq is eaten fresh, but as in previous years NAC chef John Morris adapted dishes to appeal to less Arctic-experienced Ottawa tastebuds.
“This is Canadian cuisine at its finest,” ITK president Terry Audla told attendees, adding that the event was an opportunity to get an introduction to how Canada’s Inuit have survived for hundreds of years.
“Inuit culture is not exotic, it’s Canadian culture,” he said.
Audla used the opportunity to publicly address comments made by Hockey Night in Canada personality Don Cherry in February criticizing his broadcasting partner, Ron MacLean, for eating a seal burger.
Cherry joked that MacLean ate a “little baby seal” and asked, “What are you, a savage, a barbarian?” He later apologized over social media.
“Eating a seal burger in Canada should not be controversial,” said Audla.
Shortly after Cherry’s comments Audla told CTV News that without seal as part of Inuit diet, Canada’s Arctic might face third world situations today.
Also in February, the European Commission announced it plans to toughen a ban on commercial seal hunt products. Canada lost a World Trade Organization challenge last May to appeal the EU ban on skins, furs and other seal products put in place over animal welfare concerns.
The packed house made for an excellent opportunity for Ottawa regulars to mingle with some of Canada’s northern leaders while entertainers like Geronimo Inutiq, better known as DJ Mad Eskimo, spun a lively mix of traditional Inuit and modern electronic music.
Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada Peter MacKay made a brief appearance with his son to check out a muskox display put on by the Museum of Nature.
Attendees from the GR sector included Environics Communications consultant Alex Bushell, who said he particularly enjoyed the mini muskox burger that was served topped with a sesame-soya mayo.
Environics helped coordinate parts of the ITK event, and VP of government relations Greg MacEachern also made an appearance later in the evening after attending the Canadian Water Network Parliamentary Reception at the Westin Ottawa hotel.
Other hits at the evening were the tender and lightly-seasoned carved caribou hip, served with a Sakatoon berry jus and sunchoke purée, and canapés that included nikku, dried caribou, and a selection of fresh Arctic seafood.
A bar serving crêpes à la minute with a tart chokecherry chutney, Labrador tea chantilly cream and salted caramel sauce was also busy throughout the evening.
Words and photos by Lobby Monitor reporter Alyssa O’Dell.