Shane Chartrand is a dreamer, and sometimes his dreams are tough to contain. “I’m 44 years old, and I still dream all the time about dishes. I wonder what’s coming my way, and can’t wait for the next big thing,” Chartrand says. Given that the last six years have seen him on competitive cooking shows (including Chopped Canada, Iron Chef Canada, Fridge Wars and 2020’s Wall of Chefs) and the documentary series Red Chef Revival, you might say he’s been living the dream. But he might call it more of a fugue state, due to lack of sleep. “Filming a TV show is exhausting,” he says. “I mean, it’s 10-, 12-, even 17-hour days, often standing in one spot for hours. The first night before Wall of Chefs I was so stressed, I only got one hour of sleep.”
At SC, Chartrand’s restaurant at the River Cree Resort and Casino, he quickly points out that he agreed to participate in all the TV stuff, so he’s not complaining. He just might stay away from the competitive cooking circuit for a while, especially since his newest dream has become a reality, and it’s keeping him wide awake.
In October 2019, Chartrand released his first cookbook, tawâw: Progressive Indigenous Cuisine, which he wrote with Jennifer Cockrall-King over three and a half years. Part cookbook, part personal journal, it takes readers on a cultural and culinary journey starting from Chartrand’s childhood in Central Alberta, where he first learned to hunt, skin and cook.
Completing it was a dream Chartrand didn’t think would ever materialize, and it might not have, if he did it alone. “My mind goes a zillion miles a minute, but Jennifer really slowed me down, got me focused, and posed some great ideas. It absolutely would not have happened without her.”
The pair talked and wrote and cooked, and even came up with 15 new recipes (including the cover’s “War Paint,” a dish of quail and wheat berries on a handprint of red pepper sauce) in less than two weeks to complete the book. The title translates to, “Come in, you’re welcome, there’s room.” Making recipes accessible to both beginner and accomplished cooks was key, but Chartrand focused just as much on narratives that share his culture, family, friends and everything that makes him who he is. “I think there are more stories than recipes,” he says, “and you’ll know everything about me in the first 10 pages.”
So what did he do to celebrate this dream come true? “When I got the first copy in the mail, I slept
with the book for the first four nights.”