Nuka Fennell is the owner of Fireweed and Fennel, an Iqaluit catering company known for original and eclectic food that ranges from mezze boards to caribou pot pie. “Food means a lot to me,” says Fennell, who launched the business in 2019. “I really love fresh ingredients... and bold flavours.” A taste for all things fresh and bold also follows Fennell off the clock where the Nunavut chef adopts the personae of Mistress Aurora Whorealis, a broody drag queen with a penchant for darker styles and attitudes.
For Fennell, cooking and drag are two sides of the same coin. They provide a sense of identity and purpose. “Performance art is how I am able to express myself and heal… Then there’s the culinary arts, which is about nurturing other people and taking care of my community.”
If you’re interested in meeting Mistress Aurora, keep an eye out for opportunities online, as Fennell posts clips from time to time. If you’re in Iqaluit, Fennell also hosts occasional amateur drag nights and hopes to start drag brunches. In the meantime, you can read all about it here as Fennell talks about the highs and lows—well, mostly just highs—of being a drag performer in the Arctic.
Tell us how you first discovered drag. I’ve been inspired by drag performance since I was a kid. I think the first time I ever saw drag was on TV. One of my parents was watching “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.” I just saw this person with this giant wig and thought, “Who is that? They’re so cool!”
You now perform as Mistress Aurora Whorealis. How did you come up with that name? I wanted it to be tied into who I am and where I’m from—and I’m a sucker for puns. There are a few different names I was going over, and I remember asking the folks in my life what they liked the best. They loved the idea of having Aurora in it because we’re in Nunavut. Growing up, the sky was always filled with these green lights, so it seemed the most fitting.
What’s your drag persona like? The thing about drag, for me, is that I have many ideas and styles I want to try. I don’t like to feel like I’m restricted to one character, so there are a few different ones. For example, I also have a drag king character. His name is Theo Radical and he’s more “boy-lesque”—so a lot of lingerie, masculine makeup, glitter. Meanwhile, Aurora is very sultry, but she can be a bit camp and more Gothic, like Morticia Adams.
Then, I have a comedy character I’m developing. She’s a twice-married, twice-divorced widow, and a midwestern, good Christian woman. The skit I hope to soon be posting online follows her being interrogated for the murder of her husband... which she says she did not do.
What’s the best part about performing drag? Whenever I do drag, I feel like a superhero. I feel beautiful. I feel so excited. As a non-binary, a-gender person, I feel like I’m constantly forced in this box of being male, which is how I look typically.
When I do drag, it’s almost this weird sense of wholeness. Suddenly, I am who I am—which is interesting, because a lot of people do drag because they’re becoming someone else. But doing drag, I feel more like myself than ever. Every time I’ve had a chance to be on stage or be out in the community in drag has been just incredibly healing and moving. It’s been very well received.
Shifting gears, tell us about your catering company, Fireweed and Fennel! I grew up in a very large and mixed family, and we would always have big meals. Eating was a happy time—we were connected, we were together, we were family, and that was really beautiful for me. I started Fireweed and Fennel in 2019 as Cloudberry Catering, and it was very successful, initially... until COVID hit... and I couldn’t cater. There was no one meeting. I told myself maybe this wasn’t the dream. I had watched it fall and shatter in front of me.
Then recently, through a lot of encouragement from different people in town, I was able to realize this is an option for me. It is a possibility. So, I’m bringing it back slowly and trying to figure out the ways that I can do this without having a culinary space. I have the clients, the capability, the experience—it’s all there. I just need to find a spot to do it.
Do you feel like your cooking career and your drag career influence each other? Culinary arts and performance arts are two things I’m learning are very important to my connection with the world around me. If I could wake up tomorrow and have the business of my dreams, I would have a full-service restaurant with a storefront where I can feature local crafts and artists, and a performance space so people can bring bands and play their music. I want to have community programming at the forefront, with meeting spaces for youth if they want to get together to talk about social issues. There’s a lot of need, I think, for capacity building. For people to have a space to create the change they want to see.
If I could positively affect my community by giving them that space—while also being able to thrive and do the work that I love, nurturing people through food and art—that would be incredible. And of course, we could host our drag nights there, as well.