Bernadette's aims to raise profile of Indigenous cuisine in Edmonton

· The Pulse

The owners of the forthcoming restaurant Bernadette's say their previous success with Pei Pei Chei Ow has allowed them to pursue their larger goal of increasing Indigenous representation within Edmonton's food scene — and to do it right in the core.

"It is revolutionary to have an Indigenous restaurant in downtown Edmonton," Svitlana Kravchuk told Taproot about Bernadette's, to be located at 10114 104 Street NW. "It does a lot for representation and reclaiming space." The restaurant, set to open in early May, will seat 23 inside, with up to 30 total when the patio is open later in the summer.

Kravchuk and Scott Jonathan Iserhoff, her business partner as well as spouse, closed Pei Pei Chei Ow in January. The takeout and catering kitchen was located in Whiskeyjack Art House, just north of downtown.

Pei Pei Chei Ow garnered accolades after opening in 2022, including being long-listed for enRoute's Best New Restaurant that same year, as well as being identified as one of Edify's best new restaurants in 2023.

But that success meant the operation outgrew the space. "The demand for catering has been so huge," Kravchuk said. "However, being in a heritage building, the kitchen had a lot of infrastructure challenges. We couldn't install equipment that would be efficient for us to use — we were using a residential oven."

Other limitations at Whiskeyjack Art House included a small amount of foot traffic that was less than ideal for a take-out business and a small dining area. "We enjoy serving tasting menus, engaging with customers, and talking about food with them," Kravchuk said. "We love hospitality and realized we had no growth in that location. We wanted to move on to something that we had worked towards and open a full restaurant."

The two scouted locations starting in April 2023. "This place popped up and I thought it was the perfect location," Iserhoff said of the future 104 Street spot. "Beautiful street, prominent area."

Iserhoff is Mushkego Cree. As he rose through the ranks, he said he longed to work under another Indigenous chef. He said he hopes Bernadette's can be that place for young Indigenous staff, noting that his kitchen team currently includes Indigenous people from amiskwacîwâskahikan and Haida Gwaii. "I want to inspire other Indigenous folks, even seeing it walking by," he said. "Growing up in Toronto, there was never that representation. Here we are doing everything I dreamt of as a young chef. My younger self would be so proud."

In addition, Bernadette's seeks to change perceptions about Indigenous food and ingredients. "It's not your fry-bread tacos or burgers," Iserhoff said. "It's different. It's going to showcase my style of cooking through what I've learned working in restaurants for close to 20 years. I always talk about diversity in Indigenous food because we get lumped into one group. I focus on (the) region that I'm from — Northern Ontario — but with the slight incorporation of ingredients that I've learned from here like bison and Saskatoon berries."

Added Kravchuk: "We will be breaking a lot of barriers and showcasing Indigenous food on a fine dining level. A lot of restaurants are serving Indigenous ingredients and they don't acknowledge it — oysters, lobsters, wild meats, bison."

With Bernadette's, set to open in May, Scott Jonathan Iserhoff and Svitlana Kravchuk are seeking to change perceptions about Indigenous food and ingredients. (Sharon Yeo)

In mid-April, Iserhoff was invited to cook for a dining series called Embers in Toronto, hosted at Michelin-starred restaurant Quetzal. The series intends to reimagine the Canadian culinary landscape and dispel ideas that only certain cuisines are esteemed. "People paid a certain price per ticket," Kravchuk said. "They paid that price for Indigenous food. That really shows that value is dictated subjectively. There is a lot of racism in food and politics."

While Bernadette's is proud to represent the possibilities of Indigenous fine dining, Kravchuk said it should not have taken this long. "It is 2024 and we are only now celebrating the first Indigenous restaurant in Edmonton. It should have happened earlier on. It's a testament to how behind the culinary scene is."

Iserhoff also pointed out that he shoulders a larger burden. "Failure is not an option because we are this representation of Indigenous culture and food," he said. "People will automatically assume every other Indigenous business is like that. We have to set the bar really high and be consistent. It's a huge responsibility."

At Bernadette's, the pair will aim to serve higher-end food for dinner service. The menu isn't finalized but will be driven somewhat by seasonal ingredients. "The farmers' market will be back to 104 Street on Saturdays. We can walk around and see what the land has to offer," Iserhoff said. "But we might serve bison tartare with pickled wild apple, duck and dumplings, fresh salads, or handmade pastas with duck or rabbit. We have a small charcoal grill and a gas grill for fire-roasted scallops and grilled whole fish."

Fans of Pei Pei Chei Ow will be happy to know that Bernadette's will also open for lunch, and its popular breakfast and berry barbecue brisket sandwiches will be on the menu, along with rotating specials such as a daily stew.

Bernadette's is named after Iserhoff's grandmother. "I have designed the restaurant based on her energy. It is inspired by my time spent with her before she passed," Kravchuk said.

The mural wall, painted by St. Albert-based artist Kayla Bellerose, reflects a connection to nature. "Every plant on the mural is edible, and has a specific use in medicine or cooking," Kravchuk said. "Every person, no matter where they come from, can find a plant that they have a memory of. Some are local to Alberta, or where Scott is from [in Northern Ontario]."

The mural also represents the past, present, and future, bookended with a dragonfly and a bee. "The dragonfly signifies Scott's grandmother and all grandparents and ancestors, and the bee signifies our daughter and future generations. The middle is all of us, all of our team, and our current generation that is growing to learn and provide."

In spite of the weight of what Bernadette's could be for the community, Iserhoff and Kravchuk are both looking forward to serving people again.

"I'm excited to host people in our space, share our food with them and make them feel special," Kravchuk said. "We want to share stories and connect with them."