Chef David Wolfman returns to his roots

Professor has his own TV show

Xaxli'p welcomed a famous celebrity a few weeks ago - one who returned to his ancestral home to visit with relatives he has never met.

David Wolfman is well known for his TV show "Cooking with the Wolfman", now in its eighth season on the Aboriginal People's Television Network.

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Wolfman's ties to Xaxli'p are through his mother Delores Diablo who grew up there. Diablo married Rubin Wolfman, who worked on the railroad, and moved to Toronto with him. David was born and raised in Toronto, but grew up hearing stories of his mother's birthplace.

It's not his first visit to Xaxli'p, but he couldn't remember the exact year he was here. "I came out here to meet some of my cousins and I couldn't believe how many cousins I have," he laughed. "More cousins and more cousins."

Wolfman was classically trained as a chef at George Brown College of Applied Arts and Technology in Toronto, a place where he is now a culinary arts professor. He said that in the early 1980's he took an interest in studying the culinary side of native cuisine, and opened a catering business called Lillooet Catering in 1991.

Wolfman began preparing traditional native foods presented in a modern way. "There wasn't that many First Nations catering companies in Toronto, as a matter of fact I was the only one," he said. "From there I created a lot of native dishes using traditional foods and preparing it in a modern way."

Wolfman eventually designed a native cuisine program for an Oshawa college before being hired as a professor at George Brown. He said learning native cuisine is ongoing and interesting because, "Each community I went to is different. Everybody saw things differently," he said.

He said he respects people's recipes but takes them to a new level that the modern day society allows. "You can't smoke a fish in the middle of a room anymore," he explained.

Wolfman does travel to other communities to research these recipes, but also admitted that there is an apartment building in Toronto that houses elders from across Canada and he's gotten recipes from there as well. "To me, as a teacher and educator, the most important thing is that people who share things with me, it's not mine to keep - it's mine to share," he said. "That's the way I've been taught."

Wolfman decided to come to Lillooet as he was in Edmonton on business, looked at a map, and suggested to his wife that they drive here. After admitting geography was not his strong point, Wolfman said they used the opportunity to visit various native communities as besides being a full-time professor and writing, producing and owning his TV show, Wolfman also travels and educates through leadership seminars for youth.

While here Wolfman was honoured and welcomed by the Xaxli'p community and decided to give something back in return. "I really wanted to do something and just have some fun," he said. "It wasn't a class, it wasn't a demonstration - I was just playing with food."

Wolfman enjoyed meeting his relatives again.

"It was just a time of enjoyment," he said. "Toronto is my home, but I've always said 'I can't wait to get back home.' So now I've had the opportunity to do that."

Wolfman plans to return to Lillooet in October and have a cooking demonstration that will include local residents cooking on stage with him.

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