Where’s dinner? On the Red River. In Winnipeg. In the dead of winter.
From January 24 to February 17, diners will take a seat in an architectural wonder perched on the ice of the Red River at the Forks, to sample the culinary delights of an international roster of chefs. The pop-up event, called Raw:Almond, is the brainchild of Winnipeg locals chef Mandel Hitzer and architect Joe Kalturnyk who hatched the seemingly daunting scheme in 2013. Since then, the dinner has taken place throughout Manitoba and even extended to Tokyo last year.
“I never thought Raw:Almond would grow into one of the largest culinary festivals in Canada,” said Hitzer. “It’s so incredible how the community comes together and helps celebrate food, design, and each other each winter. It’s Canada’s, but most importantly, it’s Winnipeg’s event.”
Every year, a new structure is built in a different location, completed just days before the three-week event kicks off, and chefs are invited from Canada and beyond to take part, each cooking for two nights. This year’s participants include Jeremy Charles of Raymonds Restaurant in St. John’s, Joël Watanabe of Kissa Tanto in Vancouver, Scott Vivian of Beast in Toronto, and Viktor Örn Andrésson of Grindavik, Iceland.
While the pair of dinner seatings promise to wow diners night after night, it’s the brunch offerings that have become increasingly popular since the pop-up’s inaugural year when patrons were first invited to skate up to the restaurant on ice for a mid-day weekend meal. Each year, different chefs and restaurants have offered the brunch option and this edition will see two of Winnipeg’s most beloved chefs take the reins: Ben Kramer, a custom caterer and Talia Syrie, chef owner of the Tallest Poppy.
“I’ve been involved with Raw since its inception,” says Kramer. “I’ve done my own dinners, helped with brunch and helped other chefs with their dinners. This year, I am co-running all of the brunches with Talia, cooking a few dinners and doing two vegan nights. I’m really looking forward to it all.”
While guests sitting down to this year’s four-course brunches will experience a well-oiled machine, things weren’t always so smooth, at least not in the kitchen. Syrie recalls there were some initial challenges with setting up a kitchen in a temporary structure in sub-zero temperatures—though the spirit of good friends and great food prevailed. “I think the most memorable moment for me happened the first year, we were having a lot of trouble with heaters,” Syrie says. “It was really cold and then a few of the diners just got up and started dancing around the room to keep warm. Pretty soon everyone was doing it, staff included. It was pretty magical.”
Brunch is offered on weekends with four seatings per day, and this year, Raw will host its first-ever drag brunch with two chances to catch the queens’ performance on opening weekend. “Almost everyone I know loves [the] brunch,” says Kramer. “It’s a great way to start the weekend. It is also quite a bit more accessible than dinners [and] a bit less of a time commitment for those unable to make it to dinner.”
Whether it’s brunch or dinner, drag or not, Raw:Almond dinners will be treated to excellent food prepared with passion. Hitzer sums up what the event is really all about: “My favourite moment is the magic that happens among the chefs, all learning and helping each other,” he says. “I grew up in a very competitive industry and watching the impact this event has had on the local chef scene and what its contributing to the culinary community in Canada is something we are celebrating… It’s about time we all start to work and influence each other to raise the bar in our industry.”
Raw:Almond 2019 runs from January 24 to February 17 in Winnipeg.
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