Identity on a plate: Caterer embraces her Anishinaabe-Jamaican roots through food

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Melissa Brown fell in love with cooking at the age of four. Now the Anishinaabe-Jamaican small business owner blends her two cultures into a unique cooking style, giving customers a taste of something new.

Brown was raised by a single mother who is Anishinaabe from Red Lake, Ont. Her mother grew up in the bush with no running water and often cooked over the fire.

"My mom would cook a lot of stews, a lot of meats, fish, just stuff she was familiar with growing up. You know, nothing too extravagant," said Brown.

Brown's father is Jamaican and met her mother while living in Winnipeg in the 1980s.

While Brown said her relationship with her father growing up was "sporadic" and "inconsistent," she travelled with him to Jamaica for a month when she was 12. That is when she was introduced to a whole new culture and a new way of looking at food.

"It was definitely a culture shock," said Brown.

"Their way of life, their openness — they're very outspoken. You'd see people dancing on the street, music playing loud."

While in Jamaica she was introduced to jerk chicken, plantains and breadfruit cooked on an open fire.

It wasn't until she took a break from university that she was able to start experimenting with her cooking style.

"That year I started cooking and I started studying more of Indigenous cultural foods, because I had a year to do nothing," said Brown.

"That's when I delved into Jamaican foods and Indigenous food and I fell in love with my passion for cooking."