Call me Mr. Bannock
A former cook in CapU’s kitchen is bringing traditional Indigenous dishes to Vancouver with a modern twist
Justin Scott // Managing Editor
Although Vancouver is home to many food trucks, up until recently, there was no Indigenous food being served out of the roaming restaurants – now, that’s changed.
Growing up, Paul Natrall would always watch his grandmother and mother prepare dinner, eventually getting in on the action himself. For the member of the Squamish Nation, dinner was always about more than just food. “When I was younger, I have a big family, so it was always fun and a huge thing to be cooking and sharing food with all my relatives,” he said. “We always had a full house with my mother and my cousins and my aunts and uncles. We always had a bunch of people living with us, so having dinner together was always fun every night.”
Eventually, Natrall would take his passion for cooking to the next level, by enrolling in Vancouver Community College (VCC)’s Culinary Aboriginal Specialty Program in 2010. While in the program, Natrall was exposed to different styles of cooking, with the French practices making a lasting imprint on him. After graduation, he started working in kitchens, expanding his culinary horizons but never forgetting his roots. In 2012, Natrall travelled to Erfort, Germany for the Culinary Olympics – it was the first time in over 20 years that there had been an Indigenous presence at the competition. Natrall and his teammates used the event as a platform to showcase some of their traditional cuisine, with Natrall assembling a platter that showcased a number of various salmon found in the Pacific Northwest.
That same year, Natrall began cooking in Capilano University’s cafeteria kitchen, where he once again expanded his culinary skill-set. Whether it was manning the stir fry station, or planning out the dinner specials, Natrall’s cooking abilities continued to improve. “It was awesome, I was able to learn different kinds of cuisines,” he said. “I did the nightly specials so I did lots of Greek food, lots of pastas and roasts, you name it.”
Eventually, Natrall realized that he had grander ambitions. He wanted to share his culture’s traditional foods with the Vancouver community, all while adding his own flair to the dishes. Thus, Mr. Bannock was born. A catering company and Vancouver’s first Indigenous food truck, Mr. Bannock was an exciting concept from the get go, but also a large commitment for Natrall. “It was a huge decision. Anytime someone leaps from a full-time income to rolling the dice and trying to be an entrepreneur and do your own thing, it’s a huge step,” he said.
It seems though that the gamble has paid off. Although the food truck isn’t hitting the streets on a consistent basis yet, it’s more so due to the weather than anything else. And don’t confuse the fact that the truck isn’t hitting the streets daily as a sign that Natrall isn’t keeping busy. In fact, with Mr. Bannock’s catering commitments, Natrall now finds himself considering bringing more employees on to help with the operation.
Much like the way dinner was presented as a culture-rich experience in Natrall’s early years, Mr. Bannock is far more than food. Natrall sees his business as a way to introduce people, who may not be all that familiar with Canada’s Indigenous culture, to it in an easy and delicious way. “That’s the goal,” he said. “To bring awareness and to let people have a piece of what some of our traditional foods were.”
Of course, Natrall has put his own spin on some of the traditional dishes. “My food is more like a fusion,” he said. The truck’s Indian Taco for example, is the chef’s personal take on the classic item. The taco, which uses bannock as a shell and is filled with a house made chili, cheddar, lime sour cream and salsa, placed third in last year’s Taco Fest in Burnaby. “We placed third with our Indian taco out of 20 Mexican taco places,” Natrall said with a laugh. However, the item that excites Natrall the most is his Honey Waffle Bannock Sandwich. The dish – which uses a honey bannock batter to make a waffle, then topped with juniper berry dry rubbed chicken, an apple raisin slaw and some hot sauce – is what Natrall recommends to new customers.
At the end of the day though, no matter what item a customer gets, it’s still Indigenous culture. “It’s interacting, breaking the ice and trying something new,” Natrall explained. “The big idea is sharing food and sharing my culture. There’s been a big gap in culture for Indigenous people,” he added. Natrall has also started offering cooking classes, where he not only teaches attendees how to make traditional dishes, but also explains the importance they hold in his heart. “There’s a lot of love in our dishes,” he said.
With the sun bound to become a more common occurrence in the lives of Vancouverites any day now, along with it will come the Mr. Bannock food truck. Although Natrall has no official times or locations for its business hours, he said to keep an eye on its social media for updates.