Winnipeg is known for its quirky festivals and unique cultural events, but there’s something really intriguing about events like RAW:almond, which have an almost unnatural ability to nudge people out of their homes on the coldest nights of the year to celebrate local talent and culture. Now in its second year, RAW:almond (#riverpopup) is a three week pop up restaurant erected on the frozen water at the historic meeting point of the Red River and Assiniboine River.
Joe Kalturnyk (Director of RAW Gallery of Architecture and Design) and Mandel Hitzer (Chef at Deer+Almond) are the creative visionaries behind RAW:almond. We dropped by the river pop up one morning, earlier this week, to chat with Joe about the festival, the structure’s design and what the future holds for this frozen gem.
Mandel was just waking up from a night on the ice when we arrived. He’s sleeping there all 21 nights of RAW:almond to raise money for three community organizations. Proceeds from the charitable adventure, now dubbed Great Canadian Sleepout (#GreatCanadianSleepout), will go toward Boys and Girls Clubs of Winnipeg, FortWhyte Alive, and Resource Centre for Manitobans who are Deaf-Blind. Donations may be made at RAW:almond, in The Forks Market, and via PayPal at TheForks.com.
Joe Kalturnyk, Director of RAW Gallery of Architecture and Design and co-visionary of RAW:almond
EQ3 In your own words, how would you describe the RAW:almond experience?
JOE KALTURNYK It’s an adventure – for, I think everybody. For my team. For Mandel’s team. For the servers and the patrons.
EQ3 So you’re in your second year. What initially inspired the concept?
JK We had both been doing something similar, some years back, and it was just a matter of getting a hold of Mandel and saying “hey why don’t we merge what we’re both doing.” He was doing secret dinners. I was doing pop up art galleries. And we thought, you know, this could be a really interesting new project.
Cyrus Smith is a painter-artist, and also a renowned chef. I knew him from the art world. I said “hey Cyrus, I have this idea. We should meet.” We met at the patio during The Fringe (theatre festival), and just said “yeah I’m thinking about this, what do you guys think?” They said “yeah, that sounds really cool. Where should we do it?” I had some ideas. They had some ideas. And then, I think at the table, we just decided that we’re doing it on the river.
I was thinking about it yesterday, we had such weird impressions of what this would be. Like, we had weird impressions that nobody would come, so we wouldn’t do anything on Monday or Tuesday. Wednesday maybe some soup. We just thought this would not be popular and nobody would be that interested, but maybe on the weekend some people would come. So it started gaining, I guess, momentum, and I can’t remember when the decision was made that we were actually going to do dinner every night, but once we found out that 3 weeks was our license, we thought maybe he (Mandel) needed someone to help him, because three weeks is a long time to do it by yourself. So he called in some friends, and called some more friends, and that’s how it turned into the kind of festival that it is.
EQ3 Interesting that the idea was formed in the summer, during The Fringe Festival.
JK Yeah, for me, I had been thinking about it for a bit. I am always interested in sort of nomadic architecture – temporary architectures – and, I was interested in different ways of programming this kind of space. I used to be a scaffolder, so I know this material and I find it very fascinating and a beautiful material in its own simplicity. Simple to make, simple to put up and take down. I mean, I taught my teammate who helped me in a few days and he’s up there doing what a professional scaffolder would do. So it’s such a beautiful material. Then I thought, “okay, well I want to explore this material further” and I’m thinking we could make an interesting shape…we could do all this other stuff. It could be a meeting of architecture and food…sort of push those avenues. Yeah, so it had been bubbling for a bit, but not really concrete. And then we had that meeting and it was like “yeah this could be really good. Let’s do it.”
EQ3 What was your vision for this space?
JK I always start from the inside-out. I’ll place the table. And, I’ll place the kitchen and the lounge table and see how much space I need. So it really grows out of the necessity of getting people around a long table. We decided to do the kitchen inside this year, and do it a little more professionally, a little more finished. So that was a parameter. Then there’s all the environmental stuff, like it’s got to shed whatever amount of snow load that we get. It get’s quite heavy. It’s also got to be protected and strong enough to resist those 80 km winds we get. So those are some of the things that I’m always thinking about, in tangent of trying to come up with a form.
At first, I was thinking of doing platonic shapes, just to be, I don’t know, slightly ironic because they’re not overly clever. But then I thought “the problem with those is that I know what that looks like.” I can imagine what that would look like. The Geodesic Dome, it’s just outside (a partially built structure located close to the dining tent) and you can imagine what it’s going to look like in there. And, I kind of want to be challenged too, so I thought “what if I took a form and twisted it in space.” Ultimately, I wouldn’t know all of the parameters. I know the beginning and end, but I never know what’s going to happen in between. I thought that would be an interesting challenge. So I started that, and what I found was quite fascinating. Then I had to scale it back so it was a little more buildable. What I thought was really nice – it was a joy for me to build and see it come to fruition – is by just setting up that one parameter, every time you brace it, or every time you do something to make it stronger, it creates its own wave formation.
Mandel Hitzer, Joe Kalturnyk, Chef at Deer+Almond and co-visionary of RAW:almond
EQ3 What do you hope guests will get out of the experience?
JK Obviously the food is a major component. I wouldn’t say it’s the only component, and that’s what I really wanted to emphasize this year. It’s an entire sensorial haptic experience: your nose, your ears, your eyes, (and) your taste buds.
I’m not interested in giving people stuff that is super esoteric, I really just wanted to bring some of the elements of my favourite artists to the table. So that’s a James Turrell inspired hallway (Joe points to the entrance’s corridor), where you’re just bathed in pure light. And you can change it, and it changes the atmosphere and the mood in here when it’s changed. The hallway very gradually contracts or expands, depending on which way you’re going, and the fun thing about it is that you kind of lose your body in that space. You kind of feel like you’re floating through it because it’s getting wider, like the 2001 Space Odyssey in the tunnel, where all of a sudden things are just opening up.
We’ll be projecting films and, I don’t know, maybe we’ll have some sound…have it cut in and out. Because it’s not really about watching a film and eating, but it’s more about being immersed in a different kind of cultural atmosphere. It’s all local artists and local filmmakers. It’s really about showcasing our talent here. That’s really my goal as a director and in this project, to not only showcase local Winnipeg talent, but also bring stuff to the table that perhaps is blasé in London because they’ve seen it a thousand times, but maybe it hasn’t come here and they’re still wonderful experiences to have.
EQ3 What are your plans for the future with RAW:almond? Do you have plans for this to continue?
JK Yeah, this year is our year of investing. So we’ve been investing in more permanent goods, rather than last year, when we rented most things. I’m going to turn this over into an international competition. We’re writing the parameters now, like it can only be this much volume and it has to accommodate this table, and we’ll see what happens…see what comes out.
So that’s on my end. And, then I know Mandel’s always searching to bring more talent to Winnipeg. We’ve got 5 or 6 people being flown in (this time), so we’re just going to keep growing.
RAW:almond opened January 24th in Winnipeg and runs through to February 13th. We’re taking in the river pop up’s tasting bar this Friday night and will capture the evening on EQ3’s Instagram feed. Also, check back for a full recap of the experience here on the blog next week!