Alumni Engagement

Seeds of inspiration blooming in Winnipeg’s Indigenous culinary scene thanks to Red Seal Chef

April 17, 2024

“I still feel like I’m in a dream,” mused Red Seal Chef and 2020 RRC Polytech Culinary Arts graduate Jennifer Ballantyne from the bright and airy Manoomin restaurant located within Long Plain First Nation’s new hotel, Wyndham Garden Winnipeg Airport.

Nestled in the Polo Park area on Madison Street—on Long Plain Madison Reserve in Treaty One Territory—the Wyndham Garden integrates local Indigenous culture, contemporary design, and a boutique hotel experience. Cultural features such as smudging on site, signage in Anishinaabemowin (Ojibwe), and walls of Indigenous artwork compliment conference and event spaces, a pool area and fitness centre, and full dining to offer a tailored experience for families and organizations alike.

Watercolours in blues and greens guide patrons through the hotel’s amenities and welcoming seating areas. Kookum’s Korner shop sells local Indigenous artwork and handmade goods, while Onishkaan Café offers handcrafted beverages, lighter fare, and bannock. Manoomin, which translates to wild rice in Ojibwe, is at the heart of the atrium, inviting patrons to sit in a lush, sage green atmosphere, evoking prairie fields at the peak of summertime.

At the helm of Manoomin is Executive Chef Jennifer Ballantyne, who has been with the restaurant since its inception. From building the menu, mapping out the patron experience, and pulling together her team, she is now sharing all her hard work with the broader community. Ballantyne’s pride is palatable.

“This is the most exciting time. I truly love the idea that I was able to see something sprout. Essentially, you plant these seeds and watch them grow, investing all these beautiful ideas,” she said. “From the menu, new culinary staff, as well as RRC Polytech students, it’s just nice to see it all come together.”

“There are always hardships and bumps in the road, but to see someone be excited to be in the kitchen, and then to see someone excited to experience the food, that’s an amazing feeling. I just love it.”

It’s that buzzing energy new cooks bring into the kitchen that reminds Ballantyne of her time at RRC Polytech, where learning and experiencing new skills brought joy—and sometimes, a little competition.

“It was so exciting to be a part of the Culinary Arts program at RRC Polytech. The instructors were amazing. It was fun. All of us young, eager cooks were competing to be number one, which was great,” Ballantyne said with a laugh. “We started off pretty early in our careers with that love of cooking and the atmosphere.”

When choosing her career path, she always knew she would go into the culinary field. Ballantyne, who is from Opaskwayak Cree Nation, grew up watching her aunties and grannies cook. She says it just felt organic. She also credits her mother as being an amazing and creative cook.

“She would make these meals out of nothing, and we would watch the Food Network channel together. I always knew in the back of my head that it was something I wanted to experience.”

For Ballantyne, there was no post-secondary choice for her but RRC Polytech. Hearing about the technical, applied training and the reputation the College has in Manitoba, she said it was a natural progression from to go from the kitchens of her childhood to stepping into the training kitchens at RRC Polytech.

“I instantly fell in love with it. We got a lot of support from the culinary instructors. The College is very good at just having the right people guide you,” she said. “The program itself is more artistic. We experienced different cuisines and techniques, while also contributing our own little touches.”

Along with the technical skills Ballantyne earned, she garnered a network of support within the College, as well as a deep appreciation for the communication and guidance she received as a student.

“The community and the relationships are all connected, and it doesn’t stop after you graduate; it continues. Everyone is so proud and supportive of RRC Polytech grads, so I love that family dynamic.”

As a proud alum, Ballantyne relishes bringing students into Manoomin’s kitchen through work-integrated learning opportunities and co-ops, which served as an important springboard for her own career.

“I was a Culinary Arts co-op student, and it made a huge impact for me. I love students being able to integrate into the workforce in a setting that allows for opportunity and growth. I really wanted to stay true to that, so it’s a huge bonus for me to be able to continue that tradition.”

Along with the opportunity to support the next generation of chefs, Ballantyne’s current role brings together all that she’s learned throughout her life—from growing up cooking with family, to the formal training she received at RRC Polytech.

While crafting Manoomin’s menu, Ballantyne was inspired by memories of cooking alongside family members, the unlimited creativity of the varied cuisines she explored as a student, and of course, beloved Manitoba staples. You can see those special touches throughout the curated menu that features comforting classics and inspired local fair, with traditional Indigenous ingredients as a common theme throughout.

“Developing those key elements in the menu were just things I remember growing up with, and with my culinary background, I tried to work the two in: tradition and training. My interpretation might be different from someone else’s interpretation, but I knew that it was important to have Indigenous cuisine, especially because we are in Manitoba,” said Ballantyne. “So, we have our wild rice, pickerel, or bison, and our bannock. I’m very, very proud of our bannock recipe; we make it three different ways.”

Ballantyne shared that she’s always working in feedback from the community with her team. This joy for her craft and sharing it only happens when you do what you love.

“It’s nice to feel that family energy with the support that I get from the hotel and the team here. I’m very fortunate and I’m very humbled by this experience. I never thought I would have an opportunity like this, so it’s very important to me. This job is very near and dear to my heart.”

Manoomin is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily from 6:30 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.

Profile by Sarah Panas (Creative Communications, 2013)

RRC Polytech campuses are located on the lands of Anishinaabe, Ininiwak, Anishininew, Dakota, and Dené, and the National Homeland of the Red River Métis.

We recognize and honour Treaty 3 Territory Shoal Lake 40 First Nation, the source of Winnipeg’s clean drinking water. In addition, we acknowledge Treaty Territories which provide us with access to electricity we use in both our personal and professional lives.

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