As we criss-crossed through the trees on a crisp February night we could see the faint glow of our destination on the horizon. The bridge leading up to RAW/Almond was lit beautifully by a canopy of lights with this year’s structure nestled away in the trees at the end. Walking through the tunnel towards the entrance the familiar scent of pine wafted through the air as the sounds of laughter and music escaped through the cracks of the tent. The anticipation continued to build as we ran into old friends as well as strangers that are certainly soon to be acquaintances. The night feels magical before it has even began, a sign of good things to come.
As we entered the foyer the one and only Mandel Hitzer poked his head through a small opening in the tent to greet everyone and give a quintessential Mandel speech. He welcomed us like it was his home and reminds us of the wonderful causes RAW/Almond continues to support over the years while testing our knowledge of Manitoba and the site of this year’s event. His excitement is palpable and runs through the crowd like a wave of energy.
Once we enter we were handed a shot of Belvedere, Lillet Blanc and MB Cherry to cleanse the pallet. The space felt inviting and warm with two long tables running down the middle of the narrow asymmetrical tent and a well-lit kitchen capping off the end. You could see the chefs already hard at work preparing for the onslaught of food that was about to be served.
Every night multiple chefs commandeer the kitchen of RAW/Almond in a collaborative effort to serve 40 guests split between two tables, each of which receives a separate menu. One table over was Scott Bagshaw of Enoteca, Maque and Deseo while our chef for the evening was Mitchell Bates from Toronto; an amazing technician and a now veteran of the event.
The first course was a delicate plate of sweet shrimp with XO sauce, orange and crispy kale. The texture of the shrimp was delightfully soft while the hint of spice balanced with the citrus made for an excellent combination of flavours.
Next up was a shallow bowl filled with a gorgeous broth that enveloped a mélange of dried fruit, sun chokes and scallop cake. The rich aroma of the broth coated your mouth with every bite as the sweet and savoury blend of ingredients bounced around the palate, creating the kind of dish that warms the soul with every bite.
The following plate can only be referred to as last meal caliber. The delectable bowl of grits, beets, black truffle and bone marrow (also known as heaven) was teeming with deep, sumptuous textures and tastes that were bold without being overpowering; the kind of dish that feels like you are putting a sweater on your insides.
The hand torn noodles with saffron and arctic char with leeks and mustard seed that followed were both superb. We especially enjoyed the gentle richness of the arctic char complemented by the tangy punch of the mustard seed. The almost curry-like flavours excited the mouth just the same as the pop of colours excited the eyes.
The last two dishes were a succulent crab with whipped potato followed by an outstanding piece of short rib with pumpkin and kale. The crab dish was so unassuming, however the minute it hit my mouth my eyes began close in shear joy. As someone who loves crab I really appreciated getting the subtle flavour of it in every bite. The short rib that followed was perfectly charred with the fat cap still on, which is the only way to serve it in our books. It was a fabulous way to end off the savory part of the evening and paired perfectly with the Cab Franc that had been flowing throughout the night.
Just when we thought we couldn’t eat any more, not one but two bowls of desert were placed in front of us; a buttermilk custard with sea buckthorn and a vanilla + truffle ice cream with black trumpets and dark chocolate. The silky texture of the buttermilk paired wonderfully with the tartness of the sea buckthorn, which consequently perfectly complimented the rich and slightly bitter flavours of the second desert.
Needless to say the whole meal was a triumph from start to finish. The atmosphere, the food, the friends and the laughter made us think back to all the other beautiful moments we’ve shared with others at RAW/Almond throughout the years. This event not only showcases the innovativeness of Winnipeg and its world-class culinary scene but also manages to bring together food lovers in the most unlikely of circumstances. We would like to thank Mandel and all of those involved in making RAW/Almond happen. This event truly showcases the best of what Winnipeg has to offer and reiterates the fact that we live in a world-class city.
Stay hungry and Much Love as always from The Charcoal Collaborative. xox
Photographs: Brett Howe • Words: Daniel Gurevich • Layout: Sarah Gurevich