Indigenous-fusion restaurant in the works in Leamington

Photo of Chef Bill Alexander courtesy of the Caldwell First Nation.

Plans are underway to open up the region’s first authentic Indigenous restaurant on Caldwell First Nation in Leamington.

Caldwell First Nation plans to renovate The Happy Snapper on Bevel Line. Officials met with an architect on Friday and will start drawing up designs this weekend.

The hope is to have the new restaurant, as of yet unnamed, open in early 2021.

Caldwell First Nation brought on Chief Bill Alexander, a Cordon Bleu-trained chef who is the founding chair of the Indigenous Culinary Association of Nations. Alexander will lead the rebrand and renovation of the restaurant.

For Alexander, who can draw his roots back to The Six-Nations of Grand River, it is a homecoming after working around the world.

While other cuisines may be known for signature dishes, Alexander said Indigenous cuisine is less specific, and more related to what was available to tribes for thousands of years.

“It’s our relationship to Mother Nature, what the land provides, living off the land and being self-sufficient,” he explains. “That comes to a lot of our wild game, foraging, gathering and planting — almost like the ultimate survivor challenge.”

That would be venison, bison, rabbit, duck, and quail, but includes what Alexander calls “the medicinal side” of the cuisine; herbs and plants.

The hope is that the full-service restaurant will offer patrons a menu that is uniquely Canadian but educate them about a culture that dates back several millennia.

“It’s an opportunity for you to come in and partake in great food, but really what it is an opportunity to come in and learn about a culture that has helped shape Canada,” said Alexander.

He said the restaurant is a part of an ambitious plan to boost tourism and economic development on the First Nation.