Canada’s coolest restaurant is in Winnipeg. Winter pop-up on ice gives new meaning to term ‘frozen food’

Pop-up restaurant on frozen Winnipeg river offers even cooler line-up this winter

Icy dining room invites Alberta chef to help showcase Canadian Prairie cuisine

RAW: Almond diners

Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada—The term frozen food has new meaning in ManitobaRAW: Almond, a pop-up restaurant at the fork of the Assiniboine and Red rivers in Winnipeg, returns for a mid-winter run Jan. 24 – Feb. 13, 2014.

As the wind howls, ardent foodies don down-filled parks, fur aviator caps, and sub-zero boots to dine on ice. In its second year, Raw: Almond claims to be the only pop-up restaurant of its kind in North America.

This year includes a larger dining tent with seating for 30 and a tasting lounge for 10. One wall of the tent will screen videos filmed during construction of the restaurant on ice. Eleven of Winnipeg’s top chefs will take the helm in the kitchen for two nights each. A walk-up weekend brunch will also be served.

Also new for this year, guest chef Jason Barton-Browne, sous chef at Teatro in downtown Calgary, Alberta, will put his kitchen wizardry to work inside the makeshift kitchen on ice. “Making RAW: Almond into something to bring chefs together from across Canada is just a great idea,” Barton-Browne says, who was thrilled to be invited to cook with his Winnipeg compadres.

Like last year, the evening’s menu will be a surprise. Guests will have no idea what’s cooking until they all sit at the long, communal, rough-hewn wood table.

The 32-year-old Barton-Browne hasn’t finalized his five-course tasting menu, but will aim to show off Prairie cuisine using ingredients and dishes that are familiar across the provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. With the broadening definition and respect for Prairie cuisine, Barton-Browne says guests are in for a memorable feast. He hints at preparing Alberta-inspired borscht, as well as some sort of bison bites.

The main challenge for the chefs is the rudimentary kitchen with few luxuries (only a grill and stove top were used in 2013.) This winter, the kitchen will be open to the dining room to encourage more interaction between the chefs and the guests.

At the tasting bar, another chef will personally serve drinks and create three tapas for an intimate group of 10.

Forks at The Forks 

The RAW: Almond outdoor dining room pops up at the confluence of the Assiniboine and Red rivers at the heart of Manitoba’s capital city. Known as The Forks, the area has evolved into a popular destination for locals, visitors and urban explorers. Indoor venues like The Forks market and Johnston Terminal house restaurants, gift shops, galleries, cappuccino bars, and specialty food and wine purveyors. The area is a must-see for visitors and a favourite haunt for locals who stream to The Forks year round for fresh-air, recreational activities.

The Red River Mutual Trail is a seasonal hub for authentic Canadian winter culture. Once ice conditions permit, a double-wide skating, sledding and walking trail is cleared on the rivers. Rinks are also created along the trail where impromptu games of hockey, spongee, broomball and curling break out among families.

This frozen highway holds the Guinness World Record for longest naturally frozen skating trail, stretching for nearly 6 kilometres up the Assiniboine and Red Rivers, converging at The Forks.

In recent years, architecturally stunning warming huts, chosen during an international design competition, are also erected along the Red River Mutual Trail. The competition has become world renowned, with famed architects like Frank Gehry constructing a humble winter shelter.

The skating trails, the warming huts and the return of RAW: Almond boosts Manitoba’s reputation as a top winter destination in North America.

Comrades in Cuisine

RAW: Almond first stormed Winnipeg’s food scene in winter 2013. Despite the prairie chill of January, the event sold out with 1,300 diners tucking into the tent during its three-week run. The 2014 edition is expected to be even more popular.

RAW: Almond co-creators Mandel Hitzer, chef/owner of Deer + Almond, and architect/designer Joe Kalturnyk of RAW Gallery, came up with the idea of a temporary pop-up eatery in mid-2012. Kalturnyk designed the tent, which resembled a piece of ice thrusting up from the surface, while Hitzer approached a core group of Winnipeg’s chef community to join the party. No one declined.

Hitzer says the mission of RAW: Almond is to connect Winnipeg’s art and food communities, create a truly local food experience, and help redefine the city’s winter reputation.

It’s also about building community. RAW: Almond brings strangers around a table to enjoy a meal and conversation in a one-of-a-kind setting. “It’s the kind of experience that connects people,” Hitzer says.

Looking forward, Hitzer and Kalturnyk plan to evolve RAW: Almond into a winter food festival on ice.

Dinner tickets are $100 each. Tasting bar tickets are $45 each. For tickets contact deer + almond, 204.504.8562. or RAW Gallery of Architecture and Design, 204.998.3923.

For comprehensive information about Winnipeg, Manitoba and its winter attractions, visit www.travelmanitoba.com  andwww.tourismwinnipeg.com

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About The blog of travel & lifestyle journalist Melody Wren

Melody is a freelance writer because she believes that work and fun should not be mutually exclusive. She writes about travel, food, lifestyle and green living. Melody loves staying in a place long enough to get acquainted. Local customs, markets and traditional cultures are magnets for this writer. When not writing she’s either on the road, in the air, or savoring something tasty. Most of her travels feature outdoor adventures of some sort, although she typically avoids sleeping on the ground. She is an ordinary person that enjoys challenging and pushing herself, facing fears with an eye on experiential travel. She needs to do it, feel it and see it so she can write about it. Her hope is that her stories encourage readers to get out there and do the same.
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