Pop-up restaurant on ice set for January 2014 run

Food lovers who missed dining inside Winnipeg’s eatery on ice will have a second chance this winter.

Winnipeg pop-up river restaurant Raw:Almond to expand this winter

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 at The Forks. (Robin Summerfield/CBC)

Food lovers who missed dining inside Winnipeg’s eatery on ice will have a second chance this winter.

RAW:almond, the pop-up restaurant built at the confluence of the frozen Assiniboine and Red rivers last January, is priming for another three-week run in early 2014.

“I’m pumped but I’m not going to lie to you, I’m nervous too,” said Mandel Hitzer, chef and co-creator of the event.

This year’s edition runs Jan. 24 to Feb. 13 and includes: a guest chef from Calgary; a bigger dining room that seats 30; a new tasting bar for 10; weekend brunches; and surprise visual arts screenings projected on the tent.

Hitzer also said he will be sleeping out on the river to raise funds for the homeless.

Co-creator Joe Kalturnyk of RAW Gallery once again designed and will build the tent— which resembles a piece of ice thrusting up from the surface—with aluminum scaffolding and steel connectors.

Last year, an estimated 1,300 dinner guests fought freezing temperatures to experience the meal on ice. Chefs, too, battled the elements of making five-courses inside a makeshift kitchen. At times drinking water froze, the heating failed and electricity blacked out.

This winter's version of RAW/Almond, the river pop-up on the ice at The Forks, will feature an expanded dining room, a new lounge and surprise screenings of video installations. Last year's inaugural event sold out within a week (Jacqueline Young)
“We’ll be a little better prepared . . . I know a little more what to expect,” Hitzer said.

As for diners, the 31-year-old chef tells them, “to expect to leave your expectations at home.”

Chefs are given carte blanche on their menus.

Twelve chefs will each get a two-night run at the restaurant, serving five courses with alcohol pairings during three nightly seatings of 30 guests each. A chef-run tasting bar seating 10 will also serve three bites with an alcoholic drink. A first-come-first-served weekend brunch for $20 will be served by Talia Syrie, chef at Come N’ Eat Café inside Neechi Commons.

Newcomer chef, Jesse Friesen from Lobby on York is thrilled with the opportunity to cook at the outdoor restaurant.

“This is not only a one-of-a-kind crazy prairie event, this gives all of us involved in RAW: almond a chance to showcase not only what we do in our businesses but to express ourselves as individuals through food,” said Friesen. “There is no holding back.”

Guest chef Jason Barton-Browne, who works at Teatro restaurant in downtown Calgary, will take the kitchen reins on the last two nights.

“This is a pretty neat little thing Winnipeg has,” said the 32-year-old sous chef.

He hasn’t come up with his menu yet but said, “my intention is to bridge the gap between Calgary and Winnipeg food and bring proper prairie traditions to the table.”

Last year the restaurant, believed to be the first of its kind in North America, sold out of tickets in a week.

Tickets this year go on sale at Deer + Almond on Tuesday Dec. 10, cost $100 each or $45 for the tasting bar and are available exclusively to RAW Gallery members for the first 10 days. (Memberships cost $25 at Deer + Almond.)

Hitzer said the move to initially limit sales to RAW members is meant to draw more attention to Kalturnyk’s work and expose more people to the gallery.

General public tickets go on sale Friday Dec. 20 at Deer + Almond.

Besides Hitzer, this year’s return chefs include: Scott Bagshaw (Deseo Bistro), Adam Donnelly (Segovia), Aron Epp and Ben Kramer (Elements), Tristan Foucault (Peasant Cookery), Eric Lee (Pizzeria Gusto) and Alex Svenne (Bistro 7 ¼). Chefs Friesen (Lobby on York), Luc Jean (Jane’s at Red River Community College) and Edward Lam (Yujiro), all newcomers to the ice eatery, will also cook as will Barton-Browne from Calgary.