The Little Miss Chief Story
Ellen Melcosky, President and CEO of Little Miss Chief Gourmet Products Inc. and a member of Esketemc First Nation, has found success in the gourmet market place with her smoked salmon; using a unique brining process from a recipe started from her grandmother and improved on by her mom. Ellen recalls: No one cooked it better than my mom. She had a unique method of brining and smoking salmon.
Ellen began experimenting with her mother's recipe years ago, and in 1996, began distributing her salmon sensation under the Little Miss Chief label. She worked on this for five years using both hot and cold smoking techniques, and finally chose the cold. She explains, "I decided to alter the recipe and incorporate the use of dry white wine into my brining method."
The cooking process involves filleting and marinating the fish with wine and spices, which is later slowly smoked over natural woodchips. Using no preservatives or colours, the salmon is quickly packaged into the gold foil retort pouches and thermally processed in steam. This produces a product that requires no refrigeration until opened, while savouring the natural juices in the pouch.
Corporate History & Responsibility
There was no funding available to Ellen as a woman trying to re-enter the work force. The banks laughed at her when she applied for loans. Her start up funding came from family, friends and the Women's Enterprise society. There was also the option of applying for grants available to Aboriginal people. A representative from CESO (made up of volunteer advisors) was there in a flash to help Ellen create her business plan.
Her Okanagan based company is starting to attract high-end consumers and recognition from the First Nations Business Association. Little Miss Chief received a Mishtapew finalist award from the First Peoples Business Association in Montreal, recognizing Aboriginal achievement. Little Miss Chief products also listed in the top ten in May issue of Food in Canada, Profit under Winners and was nominated for:
- 2001 The Canadian Export Award
- 2009 B.C. Aboriginal Business award
- 2010 National Aboriginal achievement award
- 2010 Westbank & Dist. Ab. Key Bus. Award, sponsored by Westbank First Nation
The company's upstream surge towards success took an unexpected turn recently when it announced that, due to dwindling stocks of the wild sockeye species, it would have to move into processing the wild keta (Chum) salmon variety. "We believe that the wild keta salmon, which is fished mainly for roe, has not been given the opportunity to be recognized and appreciated as a gourmet product", says Melcosky.
The company originally used only sockeye salmon, but started thinking environmentally to ensure stable production and survival of the different species. They did testing with the keta and found it to be equal in quality, texture and flavor; and it has been accepted in many of their export markets. Little Miss Chief products can be found in The Netherlands, Poland and the USA. Exported product only accounts for 15% of overall sales but with an aggressive marketing campaign in The Netherlands and the USA, Ellen predicts exports will rise to 50%.
When recently asked if she got the chance to get back out to the land, Ellen responded, I work practically every day of the year to keep my business going. However, nothing can stop me when its late August and the sockeye run begins!
Ellen's fondest memories of her childhood are of what a great provider her mother was. She was a great cook, ranch hand, and a hunter of deer, bear and other wildlife. They churned butter, picked wild berries and learned how to live off the land. No one came into her home without a big welcome and no one ever left hungry or in need of anything. Ellen finds this the most exciting time of the year for her is when she turns to the wilds and the beauty of Mother Earth and her offerings. She returns to the banks of the mighty Fraser River to the rock her family has dip netted for many years. This is where at the age of 16 she rode bareback, fished, slept overnight on the riverbank and listened to the coyotes howl and the sound of the dogs and whistles of the sheepherders on the far bank of the river.
Pay it Forward
Ellen wishes to pass on these experiences to her children, and believes sometimes it is our way to tell stories of true happenings to get the point across to our young. This is where she passes on her knowledge to her children in the hands on experience on how we go back to our aboriginal way and harvest our food for the winter months. This is also a place where we can listen to the wonderful sounds Mother Nature has to offer and dream and someday, as it did for Ellen, it becomes a reality.