Chef Mandel Hitzer and Chef Scott Bagshaw (pictured above, L-R) come sliding in on the ice to the seating area like old pros to rouse the crowd before our five-course meal.
Already almost two weeks into the 21-day run of the pop-up restaurant, Hitzer does not wane in his passionate delivery of the specs on the architectural and culinary innovation.
Surprising most of the patrons, Hitzer announces that all of the proceeds from wine purchased at RAW:Almond go to Winnipeg Harvest. He estimates that the restaurant may be able to present approximately $80,000 to the charity by three weeks’ end.
Though completely unorthodox, the diners reflexively introduce themselves to their nearest bordering stump-dwellers. The community dining style is eased along by Hitzer’s informality, and everyone’s relaxed dress, which attests to the weather a lot more than the fine dining element of the evening.
Our first course pops up expeditiously, but the first patrons served seem to be patiently waiting for their twenty new closest friends to receive their plates before plunging into the albacore tuna.
Hitzer visits to setup the course, describing the ingredients and preparations, as he will for each course to follow. Sometimes, the setups include anecdotes from one of the chefs’ training or from the conception of the pop-up.
Our next course features carrots that were braised with salt (among other things) for about 16 hours. The intense flavour almost imitates pickling, though the texture is deliciously softened.
Hitzer and Bagshaw present raw carrots with light accompaniment among the braised chunks to showcase the simple tastiness of the vegetable.
Next, we are treated to a shimmering display of Bagshaw’s surprising pho expertise, garnered from years spent learning from a Vietnamese chef.
The pièce de résistance (for me) is the main, a Juliet of local beef served with a bone marrow butter Bagshaw created uniquely to satisfy the dish.
As if I had it custom-made, Bagshaw closes the meal with an ‘icewich,’ a dessert served in the fashion of an ice cream sandwich, though the outer pieces are made of flourless chocolate cake, and a white chocolate and GOAT CHEESE parfait fills the sandwich.
(Goat cheese may be one of my favourite ingredients, in anything, ever.)
As the bottom of our Italian wine nears, Hitzer thanks the crowd sincerely, and he has my favourite interaction with the crowd all night.
He asks us plainly: “do you believe in magic?”
A few guests giggle, and it is hard to take the bearded cutie in his customary backwards hat in earnest on a topic so often dismissed as juvenile.
But Hitzer persists, and flips the script into a beautiful soliloquy on the magic that is created by strangers experiencing something truly unique and positive together, which will become a spark they pass on to their friends and family each time the memory is shared.
Somehow, the young studly chef is creating magic on the river – and people are taking it seriously.
RAW:Almond has added three seatings (5:30, 7:30 & 9:30) to its run on Valentine’s Day, with guest chef Scott Bagshaw. Visit Deer + Almond for tickets.
Brenlee Coates is a writer and costume assistant on movies. She has a salacious appetite for the arts, fashion magazines, and food. Sawry.