Unless you’ve been living under a rock (which there’s no reason to do, it hasn’t hit -45 yet), you’ve heard about RAW: almond. In Winnipeg, we don’t do moderation – not when it comes to the weather, the length of our river trail, or the intensity with which we embrace our harsh winters.
Enter RAW: almond – the pop-up restaurant on the river. On its own, the idea of eating on the river is pretty unique, but the chefs of Winnipeg—staying true to their style— bumped it up a notch by not only creating a building from a contest-winning design, but also serving a five-course dinner.
“The project is a really good one,” said Talia Syrie, chef at the Tallest Poppy. Syrie will be serving brunch on the weekends during the allotted 21 days of business. Although dinner is sold out, and has been for weeks, brunch is first come, first serve, and more affordable.
However, those who managed to get a ticket are getting their money’s worth.
“You’re getting five courses from some of the top chefs not just in Winnipeg, but in Canada, in a restaurant, on the river, that we built,” said Ben Kramer, a chef and one of the event’s organizers.
When Kramer isn’t planning for nationally heralded events, he works at Diversity Food Services, runs a catering company, and provides food backstage at Folk Fest – about 50, 000 meals.
“So I’m all over the place,” said Kramer. He added that catering has made him comfortable going into situations with makeshift kitchens and creating high quality meals in a variety of settings. That skill will be a real asset while working at RAW: almond, where the potential for things to go wrong is unusually high. Kramer said they’re prepared with plans B, C, and D in case a breaker goes or the heater fails.
Dinner guests will be seated at three tables of 14, each table with its own chef and menu. Chefs have the freedom to plan their entire menus, and get a chance to showcase dishes that they may not be able to sell at their respective restaurants because they seem intimidating, according to Kramer.
With both brunch and dinner, the freedom is refreshing for chefs who are used to working within the limits of their set menus.
“You can do a little bit of experimentation,” said Syrie. “We try to do things that are more fun, and reflect the environment that we’re in.”
Syrie also added that because guests are coming with no expectations, aside from prepping their palate for delicious food, there is more opportunity to work outside the box with dishes and menu planning.
In addition to creating an event that makes winter seem slightly more tolerable, the pop-up restaurant gives the chefs of Winnipeg a chance to work with each other, an otherwise rare occurrence.
“Everyone jumped on Twitter in the last couple of years, and started getting to know each other virtually, bringing the community a little closer together,” said Kramer. “Now we find time to do projects like this [ . . . ] we’re all just a bunch of kids really. Throwing parties so we can play together.”
Dinner at RAW: almond is more than just eating good food and drinking good wine; it’s a chance to get to know your fellow Winnipeggers. Because the tables seat 14 people, you’ll likely be sitting next to someone you don’t know. Kramer explained that couples and small groups, as well as single diners, fill most spots.
Guests will also be close to the action in the kitchen, because of the open layout of the restaurant.
“The idea of having three chefs doing three menus simultaneously is insane to watch,” said Kramer. “Especially from the dining room. The amount of organization and coordination is like watching a dance.”
Unlike the restaurants where most of the chefs normally work, RAW: almond breaks the barrier between chef and diner.
The unique project has piqued the interest of many. Not only has it been featured in local, national, and international media, it was also the subject of a locally made documentary by Colin Enquist and Anthony Carvalho. The short film features locals bundled up in full winter gear, grinning through the cold, and eating the renowned Red River Cereal.
Syrie said brunch guests can expect the Red River Cereal this year, but with a twist. She’s also bringing back the Shmallow.
“It’s perfect timing. It kind of breaks up the winter a bit, and it gives everybody involved something to do that’s so out of the norm,” said Kramer.
“We live here, it’s cold. Every year, the same thing happens. So you know, you have to learn to enjoy it. I committed to living here. I can hate life for six months of the year, or I can get into it.”