Shel Zolkewich squealed with delight when she opened an envelope from the Manitoba government a few weeks ago. Inside was confirmation that she was one of the people to win the draw for elk hunting licenses this season. It meant that she and her dad could take the hunting trip they had been planning.
For Shel Zolkewich, a Manitoba travel writer who splits her time between Winnipeg and Gimli, there is no separation between her work and her personal life. She lives what she writes, and all her trips yield content for her next travel story. Her specialty is the outdoors, and for one week every month she is on the road, fishing, hunting and taking photos. Her preferred place is the north, she says, “where there are small airplanes, muddy roads and feisty northern pike.”
We caught up with Shel Zolkewich between a stint of caribou stalking and a trip to Alaska.
You just got back from a caribou hunting trip in northern Manitoba. What were some highlights?
A caribou hunt has always been on my bucket list, but this turned out to be more than a hunt. I served as camp cook, picked blueberries, learned to field dress a caribou, got weathered in for an extra three days and had one or two naps on the tundra. I believe there are some trips that truly change your life. This was one of them.
How did you get into writing about fishing and hunting? Did you grow up in a hunting family?
I definitely grew up in a fishing and hunting family. I’ve always fished, but I just started hunting about 10 years ago. I love being outside—fishing, hunting, hiking, cooking over an open fire, boating, camping. I think writing about these things was just a natural progression.
How did you start writing about food and travel?
You write about everything when you first start out as a freelance writer. That’s really the only way to make a go of it. Then a funnel effect starts to happen. You seek out assignments that you really want to do. I started pitching more stories about food, travel and the outdoors and fewer about home renovations. I also got some really great advice from novelist Jake MacDonald about 15 years ago. He said, “Go out there and have some adventures. Then write about them.”
What have been some of your favourite, or most unusual, food discoveries in Manitoba?
I live in the North End, an economically depressed, but culturally vibrant neighbourhood. I always tell people that I should weigh 300 pounds by now because I live within walking distance of some of the city’s greatest food finds: Kelekis Restaurant for French fries cooked in beef fat, Karpaty Meats and Deli for freshly smoked hunter’s sausage, Super Boys for a hefty chili burger, L’Epi de Blé for pain au chocolat, and Baraka Pita Bakery for feta and spinach pie.
What are some must-try dishes in Winnipeg and Manitoba?
Corned beef on rye at Eddy’s. The young coconut bubble tea and Vietnamese meatball sub at Asia City. Sausage and gala apples at Segovia Tapas Bar and Restaurant. And finally, the pickerel with Greek salad and roasted potatoes at Beach Boy in Gimli.
What experiences in Manitoba do you feel are underrated and should get more attention?
Manitoba’s most popular tourist attraction is probably Churchill, with its polar bears, beluga whales and northern lights. And rightly so. Even though this small northern town is a huge destination for visitors from the United States and overseas, it’s not really on the radar for Manitobans, and it should be. Churchill will steal your heart.
How is Manitoba’s food scene evolving now? What are you most excited about?
There are two things that are happening in Manitoba’s food scene. First, we’re blessed with a robust multi-ethnic population. It seems every week we get to visit a new diner that represents some faraway corner of the world. Second, we have a healthy crop of young chefs who are fearless; they do what they want, not what is expected. This, of course, leads to knock-your-socks off dishes.
Where are some places you always take visitors to Winnipeg?
The Manitoba Museum, because I never pass up and opportunity to visit the Hudson’s Bay Company room. Also, the Leo Mol Sculpture Garden at Assiniboine Park, because there’s something haunting about his work. Finally, the North End, because this neighbourhood carries the soul of Winnipeg