Garde Manger, co-founded and run by renowned chef Chuck Hughes, was the first Montreal restaurant to officially confirm that they had joined a local lobster boycott over the violent dispute between commercial and Mi’kmaq fishermen in Nova Scotia. Hughes’s latest TV show Chuck and the First Peoples’ Kitchen has been airing on APTN this fall, and filming it — visiting and working alongside cooks in 13 Indigenous communities across Canada — was an experience that he says changed his life, changed his outlook and opened his eyes not only to cultures and cuisines but to his own privilege. It’s part of why he felt that removing lobster rolls from the takeout menu at Garde Manger this week was a no-brainer.
“I’m not a politician, I’m not really an activist, I’m a cook and I’m just a human being,” Hughes said in a conversation last night. “When I saw what was happening (in Nova Scotia) — there’s intimidation, there’s violence, there’s racism — that’s something that we should denounce. If people are unhappy, that’s okay, if people have differences of opinion, that’s okay, but if you kill lobster, intimidate people and burn down a lobster factory — I think we can all agree that that is wrong. The Indigenous fishermen have a right to fish.”
Hughes adds that while it was an easy decision to join the lobster boycott, his intention is not to hurt lobster fishing as a whole — a tough gig, no matter who you are.
“Lobster fishing is backbreaking work. Every lobster that comes out of the water, you have to pull it by hand. Yeah, if you have more money and you have more boats and more traps, you’ll get more, but you’ve still got to go out there and pull it out, it’s not going to jump in your boat.”
Hughes doesn’t claim to have the answers to the Nova Scotia dispute, he just hopes for a civil resolution.
“My point of view is one of a guy who lives in Montreal, who cooks lobster, and lobster has been been a big part of my life — an ingredient that’s been so much a part of my success. I want lobster back on my menu. I think it’s one of the most beautiful ingredients that Canada and the East Coast have to offer and it should be something that we’re proud of, and that means finding an agreement and figuring it out — but violence is not the answer.” ■
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