a good friend of mine moved to Winnipeg 1.5 years ago. having heard about the *cold* Prairie winters, i initially told her i’d come visit in the summertime. she had 2 counter arguments to that: the fly population in the summer, and RAW on the River.
« what’s RAW on the River? »
it’s a food(ie) festival, a pop-up restaurant, where both local and international chefs are invited to cook under a tarp tent on the frozen Red river in downtown Winnipeg, over 3 weeks in January-February.
this year was the 4th edition, and getting tickets was quite the feat. there was an in-person pre-sale at Deer+Almond, the restaurant behind the initiative. my friend R. showed up a few minutes before the tickets went on sale, and the line was already quite long. she waited, on a cold December morning, for close to 4.5h, texting back & forth with myself to check availabilities & travel flexibilities. at last, she sent me the victorious text: February 1st was to be our Raw on the River date. cue plane booking and much excitement :)
i pack up for Winnipeg, fully prepared to face possibly the coldest cold ever (not all the Great White North is equally cold – you’d think -25C in Québec City in January would be the worst: nope. R. tells me she gets -25 (and colder) in November, and legit -40C in February), and then turns out that this past winter was rather unstable: it was a pleasant -2C when i landed in Winnipeg at the end of January, and « only » -8C for our dinner on the river (which, thank goodness for that. more on this later.). which meant that the river had not frozen. the tent, instead of being setup straight on the ice, was instead setup on one of the bridges near The Forks.
so we get there a half-hour before our service on February 1st. we huddle for warmth in the waiting area of the tent with the other diners.
at last: the previous service exits, the tables are re-set, and we are allowed to enter. we are seated at 2 long communal tables.
2 chefs are in the kitchen that night, each in charge of one table. our chef is Mitchell Bates (Momofuku Ko).
now i do have photos of the food, but they’re not good. the lighting was very nice, great ambiance, but not enough for good pics, and no way was i activating my flash and ruining the ambiance :)
my favorite dish, hands down, was the hand torn noodles with saffron, olives (fried!) and garlic. i could’ve eaten a huge bowl of them and been satisfied.
the short rib, served with pumpkin, a seed butter and kale, made for a nice main dish. great taste+texture on that seed butter. and despite the current craze, it was my first time ever eating kale! i have to say, i found it rather tough. the meat was tender though. great with the seed butter.
the vanilla+truffle ice cream with black trumpets (yes, mushroom ice cream) and dark chocolate, was, surprisingly, a very good combination. a very odd, but very good choice. mind you, i don’t think i would’ve eaten more than what we were given. but i found it to be a good ending to our meal. light, refreshing, with a nice crunchy cookie-crumble to top the ice cream combo.
between the 5th and 6th service, i overheard one of the servers telling another cold guest that they had 2 blankets, if he would like to have one. now, despite my woolen dress and warm leggins and scarves and gloves and coat and hood, i. was. freezing. (remember: it’s, thankfully, only -8C!) despite my boots and warm socks, i was afraid my toes would get too cold (i was already seeing myself loosing some to frostbite :p). (the tent is somewhat heated, with fans in the side walls connected to a generator.) so i get the server’s attention and mention that i would very much appreciate a blanket as well. which made the rest of the dinner more enjoyable.
reading this, you may wonder what would possess a person to go through this? and while, yes, i was cold for most of the evening (if/when i go back i’ll definitely wear more clothes! and perhaps bring my own blanket), i had a great time. the food was excellent. the vibe inside the tent was electric: i could sense (or maybe i’m projecting?) the excitement of the people present (*i* was really excited!). the diners near us seemed to be having a good time as well; some had tickets for other dinners later in the week; others would’ve liked to be able to make it to the March pop-up in Churchill: fine dining under the northern lights (!). some had been present in other editions of the pop-up as well, and they enjoyed seeing it evolve and grow from year to year.
what had me so excited was the concept, and its uniqueness: fine dining on a frozen river. when R. first mentioned it to me, it just seemed too « out there » to be possible. and yet, it worked. you can tell there is a lot of work and effort and love that goes into the organization.
i came to Winnipeg with little knowledge about the city and about Manitoba. i left with a greater sense of connection to the rest of this big country called Canada. and i shall return :)
take a look at their Instagram for more photos.
here’s blogger’s Bacon is Magic’s account from the 2013 edition.
article from The Manitoban about the 2015 edition.
article from the Winnipeg Free Press about the tickets going on sale for the 2016 edition.
from the CBC, about the organization’s plan B because of the mild winter.
article from The Manitoban about the 2016 edition.