To be part of RAW:almond was three years in the making for Chef Norm. In RAW:almond’s inaugural year, Norman Pastorin had to pass up the opportunity as he was busy with the Grove Restaurant on Stafford and Grovesnor. During lasy year’s RAW:almond run, Chef Norm was busy yet again with new establishment, Cornerstone Bar & Restaurant located in Osborne Village and unfortunately had to pass for another year. 2015 would be the year Chef Norm and Chef Mandel Hitzer would be teaming up again for a couple nights on the frozen rivers of the Red & Assiniboine.
The entire world now knows about RAW:almond as it was featured recently in the New York Times and the Toronto Star. After two years of evolving as a winter pop-up restaurant, RAW:almond has attracted media attention and culinary prominence with visiting celebrity chefs such as Bob Blumer (Surreal Gourmet, Food Network) and Scott Vivian (Beast Resturant, Toronto) to name a few from this year’s roster.
In previous years, I’ve been fortunate to see firsthand the crazy that comes with cooking at winter pop-up restaurant. This year’s kitchen was even crazier as all nights featured three different chefs, three different menus and orchestrated chaos in the kitchen.
Chef Norm was cooking alongside Chef Luc Jean (Jean’s, Red River College) and Chef Ed Lam (Yujiro’s). All three chefs were cooking and plating dishes at a dizzying pace all night. Even though I was full from a previous event, my tastebuds yearned to sample each and every dish.
I missed Chef Norm’s first course which was chilled confit salmon with pickled summer vegetables. I tiptoed into the RAW:almond tent as Chef Norm, along with his two sous chefs, Scott Ball and John Stupar finished plating the 2nd course which was an oxtail consume topped with puff pastry. I was salivating all night and then Chef Norm pulled out pork belly with fois gras drizzled sour cherry lavender sauce. He had me at pork belly and my stomach was shouting “feed me!”
The courses kept on coming and the 4th dish on menu was kinilaw featuring Alaskan Weathervane scallops, with mixed citrus sauce, ginger, chilies and topped off with a tomato granite. Moving along to the 5th dish was a gorgeous bowl of lamb ragout and gnocchi. Main course was a plate of medallions of medium rare shoulder steak served on a bed of cassoulet beans garnished with spears of asparagus and green onions. Dessert was white chocolate semifreddo and chocolate torte caprese.
Chef Norm drew from many experiences to bring his RAW:almond menu together. He brought a summer influence to the meal as he wanted to make his customers feel they were dining al fresco in the summer. The oxtail consume, crispy pork belly and kinilaw dishes were drawn from traditional Filipino cuisine. As a chef trained with French and Italian influences, he brought his entire career together throughout the dishes he served during his two nights in the RAW:almond kitchen.
His experience was energizing and extremely rewarding as it was a unique opportunity to cook, share the same kitchen with other talented chefs. According to a blog post by Nolan Kicknell claimed Chef Norm’s culinary offering during his first night at RAW:almond was the best meal he’s ever had. That’s high praise for Chef Norm and the dishes he features year round at Cornerstone Restaurant and Bar.
The first of three sittings that night was done and as I was leaving RAW:almond, the line up for the 2nd sitting was filled eager patrons ready to soaking all the fun and energizing experiences of dinner on a frozen river. Bon Appétit!