Pop-up eatery on frozen river warms Winnipeg's food scene

Winnipeg's pop-up restaurant on ice, RAW:almond, is winding down a busy three-week run on the frozen Assiniboine River.
Winnipeg's pop-up restaurant on ice, RAW:almond, is winding down another busy season three weeks after it opened on the frozen Assiniboine River. 1:42

Winnipeg's pop-up restaurant on ice, RAW:almond, is winding down a busy three-week run on the frozen Assiniboine River.

"For me, it's emotional. It's my last night," deer + almond chef Mandel Hitzer, the co-creator of the event, said Thursday.

Now in its second year, the temporary outdoor eatery sold out all of its nightly seatings, with food lovers flocking to the frozen river for the gourmet meals, the ambience and the thrill of a community feast on ice.

It has attracted chefs from Winnipeg and beyond, like Jason Barton-Browne of Teatro in Calgary, who was preparing Thursday's final feast.

Another guest chef, Ryan Lachain, flew in from Houston, Texas, to cook in the city where he grew up.

Winnipeggers bundled up for five-course tasting menus during the 2013 edition of RAW:almond, the outdoor pop-up restaurant on the frozen Assiniboine River near The Forks. (Robin Summerfield/CBC)
"Who gets to cook outside on a frozen river?" he said, adding that it's the first time he's cooked in his hometown.

"I know a lot of guys who have done a lot of things, and none of them have done anything close to this."

RAW:almond's igloo-like structure, constructed on steel rods, feeds upwards of 30 people at a time, and its gourmet menu changes every two nights.

"I feel like we've created a bit of an Avalon, you know, this magical space that comes and goes," Hitzer said.

In addition to cooking on the ice, Hitzer has also been sleeping on the ice throughout RAW:almond's run to raise money for three community organizations: the Boys and Girls Clubs of Winnipeg, FortWhyte Alive and Resource Centre for Manitobans who are Deaf-Blind. 

A group from the Resource Centre for Manitobans who are Deaf-Blind dined at the restaurant earlier this week.

"I think a few people had cold feet but everybody was, you know, dressed warm and the food was delicious. And really I think what is first and foremost is they just liked having the experience," said Bonnie Heath, the organization's executive director.

"Even though they're deaf-blind, they were on the ice, they got to go the restaurant just like anybody else."

Hitzer said while this year's edition of RAW:almond is winding down, he promises to pop up with a bigger and better version of the eatery next year.