For the past three years, we here at Charcoal have been involved in Mandel Hitzer & Joe Kalturnyk’s brainchild known as RAW: Almond. It has been an incredible journey watching this 21 day event morph into the mighty beast it has become today; an unstoppable culinary presence that has taken on life through the commitment of Winnipegger’s refusing to let winter get the best of them.
Beyond the brave souls that gear up to dine each year on the river, there are the even braver chefs that come from all over the world to cook in this unconventional kitchen. Not to mention the architects and builders that design and construct the incredible restaurant that houses this remarkable experience.
This year’s structure was like no other. The design was put up for competition and saw entries from all over the world. The winning design is truly impressive and came from OS31, an architecture firm based in the UK. The building itself sprawls across the ice with crisscrossing geometric spaces meant to mimic the crossing of the rivers. Once inside you feel enveloped by comfort as the “skin that defines the interior space is more sculptural like drifts of snow.”
This year boasts three separate tables plus a tasting/cocktail bar. We were lucky enough to have a seat at all three tables the night we attended, allowing us to experience the full range of food being offered that evening.The chefs were Adam Donnelly of Segovia in Winnipeg, Mitchell Bates of Momofuko in Toronto, and Ari Schor of Joe Beef /Liverpool House in Montreal (pictured clockwise from top left below). The diversity and range of menus were awe-inspiring, as was watching each chef create plate after plate of marvelous food all with flawless execution.Chef Adam Donnelly threw down dishes like lamb neck bastilla with house made harissa and pickled fennel/carrot. Or my personal favourite, which was the perfectly cooked pheasant with croquettes made from its tenders and paired with a sweet cherry jus.
At the next table Chef Ari Schor was offering up some delightful French Canadian cuisine with dishes like his eggs set in consume (also known as Oeuf en Gelee a la Rusee) alongside horse tartare and carpaccio, all of which were outstanding.
On table 3 Chef Mitchell Bates’ menu was comprised of a delectable offering of small dishes, with everything from beef carpaccio with black walnuts to unbelievable raw prawns on top of a black bean puree. The meal was capped off with the best carrot cake I’ve ever tasted, which was paired with an unreal carrot puree.
On top of it all Dylan, the resident magician blew our minds with truly outstanding card tricks throughout the night.
Needless to say all of the food was outstanding and just like in years past, it amazes me to see each chef’s ability to create intricate dishes in such an unlikely setting. To me that is one of the most beautiful parts of RAW: Almond, its unlikeliness. As Winnipegger’s continue to embrace winter more and more, Mandel and Joe have found a way to not only embrace winter but to also create a world-renowned culinary event while doing so.
RAW: Almond has proven itself to be driving force in Winnipeg’s culinary scene and a cultural event like no other. We are truly blessed to have been a part of it since its inception and cannot wait to see what the future has in store. Stay warm, stay hungry and as always Much Love from the Charcoal Collaborative.
Photography: Brett Howe
Layout: Sarah Gurevich
Words: Daniel Gurevich