After 24 years in the Food Industry, Mohawk Chef shares her journey into Indigenous Food Sovereignty
Updated: Sep 13, 2019
Wa'tkwanonhwerátonh, my name is Katsi'tsyo Tawnya Brant. I carry my grandmother's Mohawk name. I am a chef, a mother of 2 beautiful sons and loving fiancée to Cody. I was raised and currently reside on the Six Nations of the Grand River Territory, located in southern Ontario. I am a Kanyen'kehá:ka (Mohawk) woman and Tekarihoken Turtle clan. My goal is to use this online forum to share my journey with Indigenous food and my work in the Indigenous food sovereignty movement.
In writing this blog, it's immediately made apparent to me that my journey into food began at childhood. My mother raised me and my 3 sisters in a house without electricity or running water, and we had a large garden in the back.
I would describe my youth in two ways; the winter version and the summer version.
A typical winter morning included heating water on the stove to wash our faces and brush our teeth in early mornings and loading the woodbox just before heading out to the bus. A summer morning might include weeding the garden before the sun got too hot. Any day of the year included filling the kerosene lanterns for the kitchen table and bedrooms; and hauling water from the well for cooking & washing. My father is a hunter & fisher and always kept our freezer full year-around. In terms of a childhood well-lived; I didn't know what I had until I realized there were other people out there who craved an off-grid upbringing.
I thought it was the weirdest thing when visitors would come to my mother for gardening advice and not know how to plant a seed. To my sisters it was almost funny; to me it was the beginning of a lifelong purpose.
I landed my first job in the restaurant industry at the age of 12. My father, my prime supporter with both an avid love of dining out and talking to everyone he can about his 4 daughters; informed a local café proprietor in our home village of Ohswé:ken of my work ethic and love of food handling during one of his many coffee stop-ins. The café was experiencing an unexpected staff shortage and next thing I knew I was that bespectacled and teeth-brace toting pre-teen you saw waiting tables and dashing from the heat lamp window to the Sunday church-crowd.
The bustle of the tables developed my work ethic; but my love of the industry came from my interactions with the cooks. The amount of time I spent inundating the cooks with questions about their food prep methods, and volunteering to peel potatoes just so I can ask them everything from food ordering to weighing ingredients soon made it apparent that I belonged in the kitchen. Throughout high school I continued to work with food locally. Eventually the braces came off, I moved from peeling potatoes to the head of the line; the teenage angst replaced with purpose. I grew to womanhood in the kitchen. After one year of university I decided to switch my focus and went to culinary school. I completed 2 years of culinary management at Fleming College (2 credits short of graduating) and ended up on that "A-typical" journey you hear many Chefs share of diving into the industry faster than their formal educations allowed.
A mentor chef of mine approached me with an opportunity to join his team to become a freelance franchise support chef and my "brief college-break" turned into a career in franchise openings that spanned the next decade. My freelance career ranged from opening mom-and-pop shops to prime franchise restaurants throughout southern Ontario, western New York and Manitoulin Island.
My career focus changed when I became a mother. Giving birth to my oldest son made me realize I wanted to ensure he had an upbringing with roots in our village at Ohswé:ken; my freelance career was not going to serve that. With my baby by my side I completed the Aboriginal Small Business Management program at Mohawk College and founded Yawekon Foods. "Yawekon" in the Mohawk language means "it tastes good!". With the help of local Chef-mentors and friends I was able to develop a catering schedule perfect for a mom of two. It also afforded me time with my mother; spending her early retirement days developing her passion project, the Mohawk Seedkeepers Garden. This is where you will find me most summer days growing foods to share for the year ahead. Since 2014 I have developed my culinary range to include the flavours of my Haudenosaunee childhood and you will find many of my ingredients coming directly from the vegetable & herb gardens, and crops of our own home.
Now I am branching out and sharing my Indigenous food knowledge with anyone willing to learn. This is the story of my journey to learn everything about Haudenosaunee foods and their preparation. With my loving family and chef friends as my team you can check back here regularly for exciting content and yummy recipes to take to your own kitchen!