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Grand Marais-born chef and entrepreneur Dawn Drouillard on Modern Food Sovereignty

Jan 02, 2024 07:48AM ● By Content Editor

Pictured: Chef Dawn Droulliard. All photos provided by Chef Dawn Droulliard.

By Kimberly J. Soenen - Boreal Community Media - January 1, 2024

Grand Marais-born chef and entrepreneur Dawn Drouillard is best known for her renowned Fabulous Catering company in Minneapolis which she co-owned with longtime business partner Eden Fitzgerald. They closed the company three years ago after twenty years.

I first tasted Dawn’s cooking while sailing with her on the Great Lakes nearly 25 years ago. The crew ate better while racing and delivering the sailboat than most of us ate on land. She fed us in dog food bowls that were covered in rubber on the bottom to ensure her meals would not slip off of the deck. But there was no chance of that happening because when Dawn Drouillard or someone in her family gifts you a homemade meal, you cherish it. The crew was mostly quiet while eating—a testimony to her ability to cook complex dishes on high seas and in wind on a gimballed cooktop in the galley that was often swinging.

And she has not stopped cooking since.

I shared a meal with Dawn recently to talk about her newest entrepreneurial adventure called Marcy Green, and we also discussed why creating “Indigenous” food is so meaningful to her today both professionally, and personally. We also talked about how healthy food is an expression of culture, place, and identity.

Soenen: Where were you born and raised and how did your home and family influence your interest in food and the food you like to create?

Drouillard: I was born in Grand Marais, Minnesota, and I am a direct descendant of the Grand Portage Band of Ojibwe. I come from a food family. So many of the women in my life have been cooks, so I guess you can say it's in my DNA.

Soenen: What have the last few years been like after closing Fabulous Catering in Minneapolis?

 Drouillard: Most recently, I have been traveling around the country with Dana Thompson, co-creator of the James Beard Award Winning restaurant Owamni in Minneapolis. We are using pre-colonial foods to raise awareness and educate people about Native American History and the Modern Food Sovereignty movement.

 Chef Dana Thompson, co-creator of the James Beard Award-winning restaurant Owamni in Minneapolis (left) with Chef Dawn Drouillard at Quin House in Boston, November 2023. 

I worked with Dana Thompson for one year at the North American Traditional Indigenous Food Systems (NĀTIFS) and The Indigenous Food Lab, as the Culinary Director, of the non-profit she co-founded. Although she has left the organization, through our work we realized that our values aligned and that we worked very well together, which led us to partnering for an amazing opportunity at Quin House in Boston last month. We presented a seven-course Indigenous dinner using all pre-colonial ingredients over two nights of sold-out service. We also hosted a “Tea Talk” in their library where club members were able to ask us questions, and we were able to educate their members about the Food Sovereignty movement, and share more about our work.

The work in Boston was so successful that we decided to team up to create a new business called The Modern Indigenous. We hope to spread the word regarding the healthy aspects of eating a pre-colonial diet to include dinner experiences around the country, and also to create a cookbook and other community outreach events.

Soenen: For those who are just learning about the Food Sovereignty Movement and the philosophy behind a “decolonized diet,” can you provide a little history, background, and context?

Drouillard: The Food Sovereignty Movement is born out of the genocidal history of our ancestors that eliminated the healthy foodways of North America. It is essentially an act of resistance! Our traditional foods were systematically stripped away from First Nations people as a means of control. What followed was rampant death and disease which still exists today in tribal communities in the form of diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. The basic idea is that if culture can be stripped from a people by removing their traditional foods, then isn't the opposite true when bringing those traditional foods back into communities? We lived here and prospered for thousands of years before any colonial settlers came across the ocean from Europe. What did we eat? It's a critical question that many people, inside and outside tribal communities have never considered. It is a very simple concept, yet extremely complex at the same time. 

 Cedar braised White Tepary Beans being prepared by Chef Dawn Drouillard. 

Soenen: What restaurants in Minneapolis and St. Paul, in your opinion, are getting Native Nation cooking right?

 Drouillard: Oro by Nixta is a great example of traditional indigenous foods being done right. Owamni, which was co-founded by Dana Thompson and won the James Beard Award for Best New Restaurant in 2020 is also doing the work. Other than that, decolonized cooking using only pre-colonial ingredients is a very small niche market. Dana and I hope to expand that, as she has done before with her restaurant and also with The Sioux Chef brand.

Soenen: Who is Marcy Green?

Drouillard: The launch of my Marcy Green business is a side project to my food sovereignty work. It is really my commitment to healthy cooking that has led me down the path to creating the Marcy Green brand. Marcy is fun and rebellious, too, so it fits in with the revolutionary spirit of the food sovereignty movement, but Marcy travels far too much to be put into a pre-colonial ingredient box! The only real parallel to food sovereignty work, besides the revolutionary nature of this work, is the health and wellness factor. Marcy uses organic avocado oil as a base and all of our flavors are gluten-free and dairy-free with zero sugar and zero carbs.

Soenen: How did you come up with her story, persona, and the product?

 Drouillard: I came up with the concept of Marcy while collaborating with two friends when we were thinking about opening a coffee shop in the Marcy-Holmes neighborhood of Minneapolis. Her origin story started to take shape and I just ran with it. The coffee shop didn't happen, but Marcy Green did! 

For her background, Marcy Green is Mary Jane's cousin. She is from outside of Escanaba, Michigan. Something very dark happened to her there. (I'm not sure of the details, but I hear it had something to do with trains.) So, Marcy had to flee Michigan and she ended up traveling the globe on many wild adventures. On her quest, she met many magical people who inspired her culinary finishing oil flavors. 

Soenen: Why did you launch this timely and clever niche brand?

Drouillard: Because I think it's a great way to incorporate hemp-based products in an upscale way. Marcy Green elevates the culture of hemp and marijuana-based products. There's much more to this industry than Cheech and Chong! It's also a great alternative to alcohol-focused dining experiences. I don't drink any alcohol, and alcohol culture has taken over so many aspects of our society that I wanted to introduce something upscale and exciting for diners who want to break outside the alcohol culture box, yet still want to get a little buzzed and enjoy their time in a heightened state of mind. It's a very healthy and flavorful way to incorporate hemp-based options onto your plate. It's also super fun. Just like Marcy!

Soenen: How many THC-infused finishing oils do you offer and where did the inspiration come from for each flavor profile?

Drouillard: Marcy has three signature oils: “Mistress of Gaia” is our super green antioxidant herb oil. This Greek Goddess of nature intoxicated Marcy when she encountered her. Mistress of Gaia is best on eggs, soups, salads, or used like a chimichurri sauce on grilled proteins.

“La Mano de Oro” is a Spanish Herb Oil inspired by a gentleman in Barcelona who had a golden hand. This oil is best slathered on pizza, flatbreads or Manchego Cheese.

“Samaan Elektra” was inspired by an incredible drag performer in Goa, India. This Indian Curry Oil features Samaan Chilies and is sublime on popcorn! It is also amazing with Rice and Chicken. Marcy has brought all of these flavors back home to share with everyone. She has many more adventures too that will take shape in the form of specialty limited run flavors. 

Soenen: Do you plan to expand the product line to retail?

Drouillard: Yes! I am working on finalizing my new packaging and getting to the point where I can scale up to include major distribution. 

Soenen: For people who have never used THC-infused products, a common question is,  “Is it marijuana?”

Drouillard: The Delta-9 THC used in Marcy Green is a derivative of hemp. The psychoactive compounds found in Delta-9 are also present in Marijuana flower. After the passage of the Federal 2018 Farm Bill, plants containing less than .03 percent of Delta 9 THC by dry weight volume are considered industrial hemp and can be legally grown.

Soenen: What are the "curated experiences" you offer?

 Drouillard: I am now offering small Marcy dinner parties for six to ten guests. We tailor seasonal menus to feature THC and non-alcoholic drink pairings with Marcy's Oils, or course. Our dinners will feature all three signature flavors in addition to special limited edition specialty oils. Currently, we are featuring a Spruce Tip, Woodland Mushroom, and Smoked Salt Oil in addition to our three signature blends. This incorporates my Indigenous Foods expertise and is an earthy, seasonal celebration of flavor. Inquiries are accepted through our website, and we book these experiences out on a first-come first-serve basis.

Soenen: One year ago, or so, you said “You’d never cook again” after losing your catering company to the pandemic and the byproducts of civil unrest in the area of your business. What keeps pulling you back? What does cooking give to you?

Drouillard: I needed to get away from food for a while. I needed a break! I had Fabulous Catering for more than 22 years, and many people know how intensive off-site catering is. Especially at the level of performance we were known for nationally. I don't ever want to go back to that type of work, but after a nice break, I feel like my food game is stronger than ever. The food I created for the Quin House in Boston was a highlight of my career and quite possibly my best work. It feels good to be excited about food again, because it's the thing that I know best in this life. 

 Coffee-Cocoa Rubbed Bison Tenderloin with Wojapi, Bidon Demi and Fallen Leaf Potato Chips created by Chef Dawn Drouillard. 

Soenen: For years, friends have wanted you to open a restaurant. Where will we find you in 2024?

Drouillard: Right now, I'm focusing on the launch of Marcy Green along with promotion and sales. I'm getting this brand off the ground and looking to take it to the next level. After that, the sky's the limit!  Dana and I would love to develop a cookbook and expand our The Modern Indigenous brand all around the country. It's too early to say for sure what it will grow into, but we have discussed the possibility of creating another restaurant to expand access and education about pre-colonial foods. I've said that I would NEVER open a restaurant so it's very funny that we are talking about this now. But I also said I would never cook again, so I guess “never say never” is the lesson for today!

Learn more about Marcy Green here. 

About the writer:

Kimberly J. Soenen writes from Grand Marais, Minnesota and Chicago. She specializes in the health humanities, healthcare and Public Health.

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