I distinctly remember the first time I visited Winnipeg as a “grown-up”, working as a contributing writer for the now-defunct Westjet Magazine.
It was late October 2013, and I had no idea what to expect of the city as I waited at the airport to be picked up and brought downtown to my hotel. The last time I had visited the city I was a teenager and, well, you certainly don’t pay attention to much when you’re that young…or at least I didn’t in the early 2000s anyway.
I popped into deer + almond for lunch, my first true dining experience in Winnipeg, and was greeted by the quirky, charismatic owner, Mandel Hitzer. While I dived into his menu that included dishes like kelp and kale beignets with hemp aioli and a pork belly and yam pie (of sorts). Everything was as clearly equally quirky and unique as the restaurateur himself, but what piqued my interest most was his captivating tale of a frozen river pop-up he had brought to life in winter 2013.
“You need to come back this winter, we’re going to do it again,” he said.
There are many moments from this initial trip to Winnipeg that I could go on about, visiting at the charming Cake-o-logy, discovering the architectural vibrancy of the Exchange District, discovering Segovia (my god, I miss that place), but it was this frozen river pop-up that remained in the back of my mind and brought me back in 2014.
From there, my torrid love affair with Winnipeg and its food scene truly started and it has not died out since. If anything, it has gotten stronger.
There is something so special about this city and the individuals in its food community that bring it to life. Ben Kramer of Made With Love, Talia Syrie (formerly of Tallest Poppy), Chris Gama, Raya and Carolina Konrad of Clementine, Christa Bruneau-Guenther (Feast Bistro), Emily Butcher (Nola), Adam Donnelly (Petit Socco), Allan Pineda (Bahay Kudo), Scott Bagshaw (Passero, Enoteca), Jesse Friesen (Academy Hospitality)...and I could go on and on…and on.
From unique events like Table for 1200 to beer collaborations between Barn Hammer Brewing Co. and Synonym Art Consultation, and then there’s Chaeban’s Syrian-style ice cream and top-notch feta, as well as all of the wildly inventive products coming out of Low Life Barrel House (there isn’t really anything like this business anywhere else in Western Canada), it’s hard to not be excited about exploring Winnipeg during every, single visit.
If you’re even remotely tapped into the local food scene here, you will know much of what I mentioned above, and I hope it rouses you up too — in the best way possible.
My love of Winnipeg, of the Prairies in general, has manifested in many ways throughout the years, from events like the Prairie Grid Dinner Series, to many articles for publications like The Globe and Mail, Air Canada enRoute, Eat North, and, yes, even that defunct Westjet Magazine (maybe it will rise from the ashes one day).
I recently released my debut cookbook Prairie and Manitoba is celebrated throughout, along with Saskatchewan and Alberta, of course. You can find it locally at spots like McNally Robinson, as well as any of the “big guys” around town and online.
From our kitchens to yours, it’s a heartfelt love letter to the Prairies and was co-written by Edmonton food writer Twyla Campbell. This is a region of Canada, I was born-and-raised, continue to live in, write about and celebrate.
You’ll see plenty of recognizable names throughout including Adam Donnelly, Michael Robins (formerly of Two Hands), Pamela Kirkpatrick, Dead Horse Cider Co. and Chaeban Artisan Cheese. Recipes like Robins’ signature smoked goldeye dip and Kirkpatrick’s stunning Winter Wonderland cake are just a couple examples of how you can cook up a little piece of Winnipeg at home.
We’ve got something real special here and I am happy to say that Winnipeg’s food scene might just be the crown jewel of it all.
Dan Clapson is a queer food and lifestyle writer based in Calgary. He has been The Globe and Mail’s columnist for the Prairie region since 2015. He is also the co-founder of the popular food media outlet and events company Eat North, a judge for national restaurant award programs as well as a regular culinary expert on many morning shows in Western Canada.
The award-winning writer has contributed to a wide range of acclaimed publications including Out Magazine, Air Canada enRoute, Eater, Vice, Calgary Herald, Xtra and more. Clapson’s debut cookbook Prairie was released on Aug. 29 via Appetite by Random House.
Outside of the food realm, Clapson is known for his love of music, drag and visual arts. He co-owns the Calgary venue The Prairie Emporium and is known for working with a wide range of creatives to put on anything from successful pop-up makers’ markets, unique drag events, the award-winning live music series Blue Jay Sessions.