I have been fortunate to have the opportunity to experience Naagan by Chef Zach Keeshig. twice now, Once in its 2021 location at the Riverstone Retreat in Durham and a second time at their year-round location at the Owen Sound Farmers' Market.
Naagan is about connection - to the land, to our food, and to each other. The premise of this unique experience, is to offer a creative 9 course tasting menu using locally sourced, grown, and foraged food that is inspired by Chef Zach’s Indigenous heritage and the bounty provided by the land. New for 2022, they have also added foraged and fermented non-alcoholic drink pairings to each of the courses.
When we arrived, we followed the smell of wood smoke toward the outdoor cooking and dining area. Once we got settled, Chef Zach shared a bit about the story behind Naagan prior to sitting down to our first course and drink pairings.
During both visits, we began our meal with three amuse bouche courses. During the meal every plate has a story, including one of the amuse courses made with wood fired bannock dough, reminiscent of a dough made by Zach’s family during his childhood.
Naagan's upscale creative tasting menus are all locally sourced, foraged and grown, proudly serving the best seasonal foods that nature has to offer. Absolutely everything is locally sourced, right down to the tableware made by Ontario artisans. Without giving too much away, we enjoyed one more course and then a palate cleanser prior to our main course.
One of the many things that stood out about Zach's meals were his unique and delicious sauces. With concentrated flavours that sometimes take several days to prepare, Chef Zach is truly gifted in this area.
To my delight, Lisa, the front of house host, then announced that we would be enjoying the dessert courses next…yes plural! She was definitely speaking my language. We began with the most creamy duck egg ice cream and then moved on to two other courses of dessert before the conclusion of the evening.
To me, the best dining experiences include the elements that are the cornerstone of what Naagan is about including, storytelling, connection to the land, to our food and to each other. These components are what takes Naagan beyond an exceptional meal and makes it an experience to remember.
When we think of food, our memories are often rooted in celebrations and components of culture. I would be remiss not to mention the impacts of colonialism on Indigenous populations in Canada, which includes the separation of people from their history and culture, including traditional foods and food preparation methods. The concept of moving beyond the exploitation of food-related resources, instead, celebrating the bounty of what nature supplies, while anchoring the food to a historical context and reclaiming Indigenous history through teaching is one of the things makes Naagan so unique and special.