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Top Chefs in Winnipeg

Home to more than 1,100 restaurants, Winnipeg offers a taste for every sensation. Check out of some of the city’s leading culinary minds who are making an impact in Winnipeg and beyond.

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Name: Adam Donnelly
Eatery: Segovia - segoviatapasbar.com
Location: Osborne Village
Claim to food fame: Arguably the city’s hottest restaurant and named one of Canada’s top 50 restaurants by Maclean’s magazine (along with a host of other best places to eat in Canada lists) Segovia is renowned for its inspired Spanish tapas, with Donnelly credited with starting the small plates trend in Winnipeg.

Donnelly is the star graduate of Red River College’s culinary arts programs, having gone on to cut his chops with renowned Michelin-starred chef Tom Aikens in London, while the dishes at Segovia have drawn on his travels through Spain. Even while helming the most popular restaurant in town, Donnelly pushes to perfect his craft, having recently staged for Fergus Henderson at St. John Bread and Wine, one of the world’s foremost nose-to-tail eateries.

Through an open kitchen, Donnelly overseas a quaint, impeccably designed room while pumping out exquisite Spanish-inspired dishes that range from the traditional – like tortilla Española, patas bravas and an ever-changing roster of croquetas – to seasonal menus and specials that make great use of game and sustainable seafood (when you see Albacore tuna or some form of tartare on the menu, you order it).

Segovia doesn’t take reservations, so get there early (especially during summer, as there are only a couple tables on their lovely little patio). You can leave your name at the door and head to one of the many local bars while waiting for your table to be called. Their wine list draws exclusively from Spain and South America while the cocktails are quite excellent.

Start with some ibérico charcuterie and croquettes along with some crisp, food-friendly cava and let the informative staff guide you through the tight, always-delicious menu. Segovia is always a sure-fire bet when looking to impress fellow dinners.

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Name: Mandel Hitzer
Eateries: deer + almond, RAW: almond - deerandalmond.com
Locations: The Exchange, the frozen Assiniboine River at The Forks (for 3 weeks only)
Claim to food fame: Mandel’s creativity inside has no bounds as evidenced by the playful small plates that come out of his kitchen, and the award-winning pop-up restaurant RAW: almond, which springs up on the frozen river for three weeks in late January to mid-February.

deer+almond is the kind of spot you’d expect to find in Portland or Brooklyn, where the laid-back staff and eclectic atmosphere belies how high-standard the food can be. Like the Red River, the menu at deer+almond ebbs and flows with the season – the only constant being that it’s always inventive, playful, and artfully presented.

The influences are global as Hitzer grew up cooking alongside one of Canada’s best Japanese chefs, Makato Ono, while he has also worked in several of the city’s better kitchens over the years. At dinner service, Hitzer does excellent work with homemade pastas and all manner of greens; while the lunch always features a quaint-yet-killer burger and fried chicken sandwich that are must orders.

Recently, the handmade cocktail menu at deer+almond has really come into its own, while outside of the restaurant Mandel is always working on cool and unique projects (aside from the aforementioned RAW:almond) paying homage to his pop-up roots – a concept he helped to bring to Winnipeg along with his friend Cyrus Smith, a chef and artist who now calls Berlin home.

Deer+almond’s room is pretty hip, featuring work by local artists and smatterings of seasonal motifs, like when the centre of the dining room featured a mound of gourds in autumn.

Last year (2014) Vacay listed deer+almond as the 18th best restaurant in Canada.

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Name: Scott Bagshaw
Eateries: Deseo Bistro, Enoteca - deseobistro.com - www.facebook.com/EnotecaWineRepository
Locations: South Osborne, River Heights
Claim to food fame: Winnipeg’s resident “bad boy” chef has hit two home runs with his Spanish-inspired dishes at trendy Deseo Bistro in South Osborne, and the new Italian/French-influenced shared plates eatery, Entoeca.

Former high school teacher Scott Bagshaw is a real student when it comes to his ever-evolving culinary education. He’s staged for the likes of Susur Lee (the Hong Kong-Canadian celebrity chef) and at Salumeria Rosi in New York, while his first major cooking gig (he’d worked in kitchens in England and Europe) was as the head chef at a Vietnamese restaurant in Australia (where he was taught how to make an incredibly good pho).

Despite working as the head chef for several acclaimed Winnipeg restaurants, it is at Deseo Bistro (where he’s his own boss), where Bagshaw’s full range was truly on display. The share plates at Deseo have had customer’s taste buds singing while also garnering much critical acclaim, including being ranked as one of Canada’s best new restaurants in 2011, along with taking the #38 spot on the Vacay list in 2013. Their menu reads fairly meat-heavy with mandatory offerings of pork belly, veal cheeks and sweet breads (whose variations are updated often), but be sure to tuck into the vegetable dishes (we fawn over the crunch salad) and soups, which are of an extremely high-calibre. Deseo also has arguably the best drink program in the city, giving classic cocktails the respect (through tight fine-tuning) they deserve.

In the past year Bagshaw is more often than not found at his newest restaurant, Enoteca, which has brought artfully-plated Italian and French-inspired dishes to River Heights on a menu that is updated every six weeks or so. It’s a small room – so reservations are a must – where Bagshaw can oversee every facet of the operation from an open kitchen where his cooking has been simply outstanding. At Enoteca the sauces are so good that we’ve watched customers lick the plates clean while the pastas are what you would expect from a celebrated nonna in the Old World.

Look out for Bagshaw’s newest restaurant, Maque, a Chinese/Japanese inspired restaurant when it opens this fall at 909 Dorchester in River Heights.

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Name: Scott McTaggart & Lorna Murdoch
Eatery: fusion grill - fusiongrill.mb.ca
Location: River Heights
Claim to food fame: The local food movement in Winnipeg started at fusion grill thanks to Scott’s vision. It was also the first local restaurant to offer an all-Canadian wine list.

Before farm to table was fashionable, fusion grill (yes, the name is a tad silly), was proudly rocking out fare from local producers with flair; a tradition they still continue with chef Lorna Murdoch’s sublime dishes.

For starters (pun intended), the pickerel cheeks with crème fraiche and local löjrom caviar is rave worthy, while truffle perogies with duck sausage and walnut cream sauce had even Canadian superstar chef Rob Feenie claiming that this, “could honestly be the official civic dish, local but worldly, modest but tasty.” (In the article, which Feenie wrote for Western Living, he would go on to rave about all the fusion grill dishes he tried, including a bison back ribs with Seagram’s Five-Star glaze that was, “perhaps the most Canadian dish ever invented”).

Aside from fusion grill’s excellent, locally robust menu, another part of the restaurant’s charm is in observing owner/front of the house maestro McTaggert in action in the 41-seat room. The former stand-up comic and restaurant industry veteran is quite the character, but his big personality is buttressed by his excellent knowledge of local ingredients and producers.

McTaggert’s meticulously researched (he is constantly going vineries across Canada) all-Canadian, Cuvee Award winning wine list was well ahead of its time – even by Okanagan and Niagara standards.

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Name: Tabitha and Paul Langel
Establishments: Tall Grass Prairie, GrassRoots Prairie Kitchen, Baba’s Tall Grass Pantry - tallgrassbakery.ca
Locations: Wolseley, The Forks
Claim to food fame: Tabitha and Paul are the faces behind this organic bakery that has expanded to include a take-home food service kiosk and Ukrainian quick food service kiosk at The Forks. The bakery supports organic agriculture and works closely with Manitoba farmers while their cinnamon buns and Folk Fest cookies are legendary.

Just one look at the grain mill that towers above and feeds their operation inside the Forks Market you’ll know that Tall Grass Prairie is taking baking to a whole new level. Milling your own grain puts you far ahead of the bread game as it leaves next to no time for the nutrients to break down (while keeping flavours at their peak) before their organic, Manitoba-sourced whole grains are mixed and baked into fluffy, crunchy, and chewy wonders.

There is no place more transparent with their sourcing in Winnipeg than Tall Grass. They proudly list all of the farmers they work with on their website – from the grains, to the ciders, eggs and foragers for their berries – going as far as writing stories about how these farm-to-kitchen relationships began. In these they explain the process of going from the land straight to your mouths, making every baked good seem that much more special.

And they’ve been at this for a while; they opened the original location (along with and Lyle and Kathy Barkman) in Wolseley in 1990, and within 15 minutes customers had emptied everything off the shelf – and this, after the banks had told them that no one was going to pay more for breads whose grains were locally-sourced.

A second location opened in the Forks Market in 2002, followed by a small take-out business specializing in meals to-go, jams and cold-pressed oils called Grass Roots Prairie Kitchen. They then opened a food kiosk in the Forks Market called Baba’s Tall Grass Pantry that specializes in perogies and Ukranian fare.

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Name: Nils Vik
Coffee shop: Parlour Coffee - parlourcoffee.ca
Location: The Exchange
Claim to beverage fame: Winnipeg’s exploding independent coffee shop scene can thank Nils for starting the movement in 2011 when he began serving brews from artisanal roasters, such as 49th Parallel and Phil & Sebastien, at Parlour.

Before Parlour, Winnipeg’s downtown coffee scene was somewhat in its dark days –and we’re not talking beans. Sure, there was local roasting going – Black Pearl in the North End still does a great job sourcing and doing their own roasts, while you could always get a strong, nicely crafted shot of Espresso from a number of the Italian markets and restaurants – but no one was doing carefully-crafted west coast style coffee here like you could get from Vancouver to San Francisco.

Yes, for Tim’s drinkers out there (and we won’t continue further here in fear of offending) being a coffee aficionado may equate to being a hipster. Which, admittedly, it often does – Parlour has no Wi-Fi (instead they have a nice sign that encourages talking to your neighbour), no phone, a no wedding photographers rule and their staff have spiffy haircuts. But dude, their coffee is just outstanding.

Everything is ground to order, cup by cup while they also sell excellent equipment to do your own home brews. Nils also knows a thing or two about what to source from the outside, whether it is baked goods from Tall Grass Prairie or Beet Happening. But get to Parlour early if you want to partake in some tasty accompaniments to your coffee; they tend to sell out fast.

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Name: Constance Menzies
Eatery: Chocolatier Constance Popp - artisanchocolates.ca
Location: St. Boniface
Claim to food fame: Her elegant chocolates have graced the gift lounges of the Golden Globes and the Toronto International Film Festival, and now she’s created custom molds for sale of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. The award-winning chocolate “Manitobar” is cut into the shape of the province and made with Manitoba hemp seed, Ecofarm sunflower seeds, John Russell honey and Manitoba flax.

Constance is a bit of an eccentric, which is exactly what you are looking for in someone dedicated to his or her craft. Her chocolates and confections are certainly out of the box; utilizing locally produced ingredients combined with exotic single-origin chocolate (no preservatives or artificial flavours) in her eco-friendly, ethically sound shop.

Constance studied chocolate at the Barry Callebaut Chocolate Academy in Montreal for three years (she’s originally from there, but had been living in Winnipeg pursuing various occupations) before opening up her first Winnipeg location eight years ago in St. James. She’s since expanded in 2013 to a tourist and foot-traffic friendly shop in St. Boniface, just off the Esplanade Riel, where her window facing one of the city’s busiest streets flaunts her sweets – including chocolate structures based on icons like Winnipeg’s Golden Boy and the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

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Name: Tristan Foucault
Eatery: Peasant Cookery - peasantcookery.com
Location: The Exchange
Claim to food fame: Tristan nurtures a slow food approach, mastering age-old recipes and time-honoured techniques such as charcuterie, preserves and butchery.

Having trained at Vancouver’s Dubrulle International Culinary & Hotel Institute of Canada, along with some internationally acclaimed French restaurants such as the venerable Vancouver rooms Le Crocodile and Lumiere, and Thomas Keller’s Bouchon in Las Vegas and French Laundry, Foucault has learned from some of the best.

In Winnipeg, before WOW! Hospitality created Peasant Cookery (of which Foucault is executive chef and partner), Foucault helmed their Asian bistro Hu’s on First as well as their first pure French concept at Qui Bistro. After three years, the more upscale Qui was transformed and rebranded into Peasant Cookery – a smart move considering current dining trends and the fact that the sunlit space, with its hard woods, exposed brick and beam, and patio looking out into The Exchange District, is certainly one of Winnipeg’s handsomest restaurant locations.

Everything is made from scratch at Peasant Cookery from the pickling (of which they do hefty amounts), to the stocks, to the charcuterie that – along with his buck-a-shuck oyster nights – has put Foucault on the culinary map here.

Foucault is self-taught as a butcher and is a deft hand at creating cures and terrines out of nose to tail ingredients. He uses hogs heads, tongues and hocks – the Berkshire pork for which he sources regularly from Zinn farms – butchering at least four pigs every two weeks; a rare feat for a restaurant in Winnipeg. Peasant Cookery is also one of the few spots in the city to use only Ocean Wise certified fish, often looking to our land-locked prairies for sustainably harvested lake fish.

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