Cooking for Christmas with Cambridge Bay’s Kuugaq Café
"We always have muskox, caribou and char on the menu all the time"
If you’re in Cambridge Bay and like muskox, caribou and Arctic char, count yourself among the fortunate.
Every day on the blackboard menu at the Kuugaq Café you will find these local foods, along with home-baked cookies, cakes and, these days, seasonal holiday treats, like a frosted Christmas log cake.
But you had better plan to come in advance, at lunch or for a weekend brunch, because seating is limited. The café offers several wooden tables seating up to six, a few bistro tables for two and an area with some comfortable chairs for those inclined to have coffee or chat with friends.
Owned by Stuart and Amanda Rostant, the cafe opened two years ago in an area of Cambridge Bay that’s getting more built up as the community of about 1,800 continues to grow.
In the kitchen you’ll find chef Phil Goodland. He’s originally from Newfoundland, where cooking with wild meat and fish is also a way of life, he told Nunatsiaq News.
“We always have muskox, caribou and char on the menu, all the time,” Goodland said.
“The country meat is the most exciting—the quality is just fantastic. It’s really good for you and incredibly nutritious. You’re not going to find better protein anywhere because it’s wild game from the Arctic.”
Generally, Goodland said he tries to apply a southern twist to northern cuisine.
“A classic example would be a beef and barley stew. Obviously, why not just substitute caribou and barley,” he said.
As well, Goodland has cooked up curries with country meats and some Asian flavours for café patrons.
“People really enjoy that, soy and all those flavours,” he said. “It’s fun to play around with that stuff.”
But his favourite dish remains a whole piece of caribou, such as a shoulder, braised. For the most part, customers are receptive to his bringing diverse cooking styles north, although they sometimes wonder about the lack of fried foods, he said.
The restaurant doesn’t even have a deep fryer, although sometimes the menu will include something like a fried chicken sandwich.
“For the most part people are open to what we are doing. The local population really responds to the country meat and baked goods,” Goodland said.
The muskox burgers, made with meat sourced from Kivalliq Foods in Rankin Inlet, are incredibly popular.
Each muskox produces about 135 kilograms of meat.
“It’s great because it’s made of muskox from here, fresh vegetables, lettuce and tomato. The bun is made here. It’s a very healthy, nutritious option. That’s probably our biggest selling burger now, the muskox burger,” Goodland said.
And, if you ‘re on a gluten-free diet or you’re a vegetarian, the Kuugaq Café also serves dishes that you can eat.
You can find the Kuugaq Café at 16 Koihok Maghagak, and it’s best to look on its Facebook page or call 867-983-2662 to check on the hours, which can vary, particularly if they’re hosting special events.
Here’s the Kuugaq Café’s recipe for muskox curry:
Muskox Keema curry (serves eight)
2 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, diced
2 lb ground muskox
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp ginger, grated
2 tsp cumin
1 tbsp coriander
1 tsp cayenne
1 tsp garam masala
1 tsp turmeric
1.5 tsp cayenne pepper
1.5 tsp salt
1 cup peas
2 tbsp cilantro
3 potatoes, small dice
1 28 oz can diced tomatoes
Season ground muskox with garlic powder, onion powder and salt.
Heat oil in large saucepan over medium-high heat.
Cook and stir onion in the hot oil until soft and beginning to brown.
Add a bit of water if browned bits stick to bottom to loosen them. Add ground muskox and cook until it’s nicely broken apart and browned.
Add garlic, ginger, cayenne and cilantro. Reduce heat to medium low. Stir in coriander, cumin and turmeric into muskox; cook until flavours blend.
Add potatoes, then cover pot and simmer until potatoes are tender.
Add peas to pot and cook for 10 to 15 minutes.
Let curry rest for five minutes, then sprinkle with additional garam masala (optional) and serve over rice or as a side dish.