Salmon n’ Bannock and Beyond: Inez Cook Serves Up Meals and Memories
“When I opened the restaurant, I really wanted to keep on a journey. I never realized that the journey I'm taking everyone on is my very personal journey, the journey within,” Inez Cook, co-founder and owner of Salmon n’ Bannock Bistro in Vancouver, shares. She was born in Bella Coola and grew up in Vancouver, a member of Nuxalk Nation.
“Since I was part of the 60’s scoop, I didn't grow up in my culture. I've been reintroduced to my culture, after opening the restaurant, which is when I went back to my community and I went to a 3-day potlatch and I got reintroduced to my community. I received my button blanket, my traditional name. Now I’m taking people on this personal journey within. You can feel me in the walls when you come here,” she recounts.
Cook is the co-founder and owner of Salmon n’ Bannock Bistro in Vancouver, which opened during the 2010 Olympics. She saw a sign in Kelowna that said “Don’t Panic, We’ve got Bannock” and was so surprised there was an Indigenous restaurant in Kelowna. Vancouver didn’t have one anymore but with a little luck and a lot of hard work, that was about to change.
When an acquaintance needed to sublet a restaurant space, Cook took it over and opened months later. The sublet simplified the administrative processes so it happened very quickly, with lots of lessons learned since then. From traffic and parking issues to a global pandemic, this well-loved restaurant had its share of bumps along the way. Their food will be arriving soon to its new second location: the International Departures section of YVR Airport.
They have a holistic approach to their kitchen, with no titles and cross-training on everything. Their team is all Indigenous, representing 14 different nations and bringing different flavours and inspirations from all over the lands. She’s happy to mentor people who want to work in the industry and her big passion is company culture.
“It is the most important thing for running a business. Some of the best advice I learned from people is don't do business with jerks. Don't give them your money, don't take their money,” she advises. Cook believes in trusting your gut instincts and saying no to partnerships that don’t feel right. “Not all money is worth it and not all business is worth it,” she shares.
Outside of the restaurant, Cook has also been a flight attendant and in the airline industry for 41 years. She gave notice of retirement to focus on her restaurant but speaks warmly of her time in the skies. Her favourite place to visit is Paris and she lived in Saudi Arabia for five and a half years. She’s travelled throughout the Middle East and learned so much.
Her education is in radio broadcasting and communications but she’s worked in restaurants since she was 13. She started out at Boston Pizza as a dishwasher and kept one foot in the industry ever since. “It was always something that I wanted to do in the future, to open a restaurant and live all over the world and celebrate everybody's cultures, I couldn't be happier, and being home and celebrating my culture,” she smiles.
As part of an Indigenous council at Air Canada, she advocated for the re-release of their safety video to include Indigenous content. As she leaves her job, she says she can walk a bit taller knowing she was part of the change that led to the airline re-recording their video to include land acknowledgements. “It's hard talking to corporations and getting them to make changes. Being a part of that change really feels amazing,” she says.
Her advice for people considering becoming a flight attendant is to be prepared to relocate to wherever you are being stationed and that you don’t have to take courses before getting hired and as an Indigenous person, you don’t need a second language to qualify. The airlines will train you on their own processes anyways. While a low starting salary and working on call can be tough, it does get better, she confides. When you could get a call at four in the morning to come to work, being a flight attendant takes commitment and passion.
For aspiring restauranteurs, Cook suggests starting with catering because you can rent a commissary kitchen and start building your brand. You know how many to cook for and you’re paid for all of them. With a restaurant, you have to guess how much food to order from day to day and sometimes need to get creative so nothing goes to waste.
Looking back on her life she says, “I wish I would have been proud of my Indigenous heritage. I wish I would have found role models and mentors when I was younger. If I would have felt better in my skin growing up, I could have saved myself a lot of additional hurt,” she remembers. She also wishes she hadn’t been so stubborn and thought differently about failure.
“It's okay to fail. It's okay to make mistakes. It's just opening up new doors for new opportunities and understanding.”
”It's okay not to be right and it's okay to learn and not be afraid of that and also not to be afraid of success,” she says. Cook believes in celebrating the good days and that we should talk to ourselves the way we would someone we love. It’s something she once heard and she tries to remind herself of it.
She wishes she learned earlier never to read the comments online, alluding to the sometimes racist commentary that can appear online on posts and stories about Indigenous people. “A hope for reconciliation for the future is that we can actually read the comments section,” she remarks.
As we move towards that brighter future, Inez Cook is taking her restaurant guests on a culinary and personal journey, exploring and sharing her culture through food and friendly hospitality. Coming home from her airline career, she’s opening doors in the restaurant industry, welcoming new restauranteurs with mentorship and encouragement.
Thanks to Alison Tedford Seaweed for authoring this article.
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