Indigenous food is “so much more than bannock tacos” says Siobhan Detkavich, the youngest-ever competitor on Top Chef Canada.
Originally from so-called Vancouver Island, Detkavich works as the chef de partie at Terrace Restaurant at the Mission Hill Family Estate Winery on Syilx/Okanagan territory in West Kelowna, B.C. She’s competing on the ninth season of Top Chef Canada, which premiered April 19 on Food Network Canada.
“I think cooking for reconciliation and sovereignty is so important,” she tells IndigiNews.
We sat down with Detkavich on April 21 to ask what motivates her, what she’s dreaming toward, and what advice she has for young Indigenous people. The following conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Anna McKenzie: What prompted you to pursue a career in the culinary arts?
Siobhan Detkavich: Honestly, free tuition! I moved from Nanaimo to Oliver [B.C.] when I was 15. My mom gave me 24-hour notice, so I didn’t get to say goodbye to any of my friends. By the time we moved there, I was just hating life. It just so happened that I got put into this seniors’ food class in Grade 10 and around that same time, our career counsellor came into the classroom and asked, “Who wants to leave high school for a year and take a trade?”
At that point, I was like, please, anything — anything to leave high school, and so all I had to do was take a trade of some sort. I didn’t want to do welding or construction, carpentry, mechanics. None of that really interested me, so I took culinary arts. Once I started that, I just found my niche, and six years later, here I am still.
AM: Was there a moment where you just knew that this was going to be your thing?
SD: When I look back, I don’t think there was a moment where I was like, “wow, this is it.” I think what continues to drive me is, well, the first chef that I apprenticed under, she was more than a chef in so many ways. I didn’t grow up having family or support. I was very independent as a teenager, so she kind of stepped in and taught me about life, cooking, and showed me what I can do to find my passion. She was the one that told me I was a natural, so she pushed me to get as much exposure as possible. I did multiple competitions and watching her and her passion is what continues to help me stay as a young cook.
Then after four seasons of working at the same restaurant, I decided to spread my wings and move on to different places to see other chefs and their passion, their creativity, their drive, what they’ve done to get to where they are — it’s so inspiring and humbling.
AM: You’re currently at Mission Hill Winery. Can you tell me, what exactly is a demi chef de partie?
SD: For this season, I’ll be coming on as a chef de partie. I am borderline the chef’s right-hand person without the title of “sous.” I don’t do as much paperwork as a sous chef would. All of us are really flexible on “the line,” so we know all of the stations. If there ever was a time where a chef needed to step “offline” they would feel comfortable asking me to “call the board,” and at that point, I’m running the kitchen. The level of trust, the level of skill you’ve built or developed, it’s just kind of there. As a demi, you’re being trained to be in that position.
AM: Congratulations on your new role! That’s really exciting. So, what does it mean to be the youngest ever competitor on Top Chef Canada?
SD: First off, it’s an honour. It’s not often you ever see anybody relatively close to my age on a show of that magnitude. It was just, wow. Everyone had to go through the application process, the interviews, and for them to see something in me that maybe I didn’t see in myself, and to be accepted and go onto the show, it’s just wow. It’s nerve-wracking for sure and there’s a lot of pressure. I’m 21, and I don’t have as much experience as everyone else. It was challenging in all of the right ways.
AM: What does it mean to you to be an Indigenous person on such an acclaimed show?
SD: I don’t know a whole lot about where I come from and what my ancestry is and I know so many other Indigenous families are the same way due to past events. So much has been lost — culture, language. For me to be able to dive deeper into my cultural background and then have the opportunity to go on national television and share my story and be able to have that platform … for myself, it’s so important to show the beauty of who we are.
There’s so much misrepresentation of Indigenous Peoples. The media tends to shine the spotlight in all of the wrong places — which creates stereotypes. It’s so important to demonstrate that yes, we have a harsh history, but growing from that, we are so resilient.
When it comes to cooking, I think of Rich Francis and Shane Chartrand. They showcase their backgrounds in working with Indigenous food, and I think cooking for reconciliation and sovereignty is so important, because our food is so much more than bannock tacos. It’s showing how our nations lived off of the land, and food can really share a story.
AM: How do you stay motivated and focused as a chef?
SD: I’ve had many days where I’ve wanted to hang up my apron. I tried construction for a bit and it was in the moment that I realized that I missed the adrenaline rush of cooking. What really drives me is the doubt I’ve experienced. I will go above and beyond what you thought I couldn’t do. I want to do what people say isn’t achievable, and once I get there, I think about what I can do next to be better and refine my skills. I’m always asking, “what else can I learn?”
AM: For our young Indigenous readers out there, do you have any words of advice in pursuing a career in the trades?
SD: If you have an interest, go for it. With any career choice, once you find your passion, take that and let it drive you to achieve what you may think is unachievable. I never thought I would be on a show on Food Network, but by putting everything I had into something — you reap what you sow. And I hope to see Indigenous youth doing their thing and exceeding at what they do. I think the trades are for everybody and there are so many badass women.
AM: As a chef, do you have a long-term goal or dream?
SD: I want to travel [after the pandemic]. I love trying new foods and being able to cook new things. Food shares a story, so along with traveling, I want to find those little “holes in the wall,” to learn what authentic cuisine is.
I want to go to China, Japan, Italy. I want to learn about those recipes that have been passed down between generations and finding out how others get that rich depth of flavour, aroma, effervescence. Everything here is so westernized and I don’t think that Canada will be my resting spot. I have a travel bug and I want to take that and run with it.
I also want to be able to bring up other young chefs, once I settle down into one spot.
AM: Is there anything else you want to share?
SD: Nothing is impossible, because people are possible. I feel like a lot of young Indigenous kids can relate to coming from absolutely nothing, and it was a big thing for me to see other people my age who have wealthy parents. Going from an environment of maybe not having power or running water or [not knowing] when your next meal is going to be, just know you can push through it and good things will happen at the end of it.
It doesn’t matter where you come from, anyone can be anything.
AM: You are so inspiring! I can’t wait to keep watching the show. Thank you for being such an inspiration for Indigenous youth.