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Putting Indigenous Food on the Map

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CHEF ZACH KEESHIG makes waves with Naagan, the intimate dining experience featuring a nine-course, progressive Indigenous tasting menu, where nature, culture and skill come together to create something beautiful in the heart of Owen Sound.

GETTING HIS BEARINGS

From a childhood spent in the kitchen, to honing his skills in hometown restaurants, the path for Keeshig’s career was clear. After high school, Keeshig enrolled in Georgian College’s Culinary Arts program and immediately sought his first apprenticeship under local Chef Tim Johnston at Cobble Beach 

Climbing the ranks and learning to navigate the industry was an invaluable experience, though Keeshig knew there was a bigger picture—one that did not involve à la carte. Working with Chef Michael Stadtländer at Eigensinn Farm, Chef Jonathan Gushue at Langdon Hall, and Chef Eric Robertson at Pearl Morissette, Keeshig was inspired by their creative cooking philosophies, rooted in conscious local consumerism.

COMING TO LIFE

Not long after that, Naagan was conceptualized. Keeshig wanted a place to celebrate his First Nations Ojibwa roots through inventive dishes, while taking his vision of sustainability to the next level. With actionable goals, Naagan found its beginnings as a single seating, 10- guest experience in the Owen Sound Farmer’s Market. “It’s time to put Indigenous food on the map,” says Keeshig. 

Today, Naagan lives in the same home, seating 13 guests. Keeshig’s à la minute dishes boast the bounty of the local landscape, with each ingredient sourced from surrounding farmers markets, foraged from nature or grown in his own backyard. The progressive Indigenous dishes incorporate traditional cooking philosophies alongside modern culinary techniques to create an ever-changing tasting menu with beautifully paired wild beverages.

“Adapting to these philosophies and getting back to our roots also comes with finding alternatives for common ingredients that aren’t found in our local environment. Things like lemons, pepper and vanilla all have forageable alternatives with similar flavour profiles —sometimes it can be hard but it’s always so rewarding,” says Keeshig.

WHAT’S NEXT FOR KEESHIG?

With big plans for the future, Keeshig aspires to expand not only Naagan, but his culinary journey through brick and mortar, using the space for continued weekend tasting menus, as well as a culinary institute for youth. Through his own childhood experiences and those fatherhood have brought him, Keeshig is seeking to inspire the next generation of chefs to develop passion and skills while learning the importance and rewards of living and sourcing from the land. 

Whether it’s working alongside his son, trips to the market with his daughter, or foraging as a family, Keeshig is building a foundation – starting with his own – of opening the doors to more sustainable cooking.

FIVE THINGS ABOUT KEESHIG

General Vibe:Pretty easy going, always thinking of new dishes to create how to incorporate wild plants or flavours into our cooking!
Favourite Tool:Would have to be my Vitamix blender! It’s a work horse from puréeing sauces, pesto, sorbets, etc.—it gets a lot of work.
Favourite Book:I have learned a lot of wild cooking and using these types of ingredients from Pascal Baudar’s books – The New Wildcrafted Cuisine, or The Wildcrafting Brewer are some favourites.
Guilty Pleasure: Culinary is a tough trade, so finding a balance is key. My guilty pleasure is honestly sitting around with my children watching movies, getting takeout and snacks and just being around them!
Top Skill: I would have to say that my creativity is number one. Being able to see and use some not-so-every-day ingredients to make a beautiful tasting dish. Another might be the ability to cook over fire as it’s very different then cooking over a normal stove—controlling the heat and knowing what kind of heat you’re looking to cook on are great skills.

Fresh from Naagan | naagan.squarespace.com

Indigenized Sourdough Bread

Featuring local flour, ground wild rice flour, and pumpkin, sunflower, and golden flax seeds.

White Fish Dish

Georgian Bay White Fish cooked in grape leaves, seasoned in prickly ash and juniper, topped in sweet cicely sauce, and garnished with unripe wild grapes.

Wild Beverages

Including peach tea with pine and basil, as well as wild ginger beer flavoured with spruce.

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