Could caribou lichen be the next kale? Or perhaps chaga and birch beer the the next pale ale?
Probably not, but for you adventurous foodies out there looking for something a little different the dynamic duo of Anna Sigrithur and Nathan Enns will surely introduce you to some interesting edibles that may not yet be on your radar.
For the past two and a half years these two cooks have been hosting monthly pop-up dinners across the city under the moniker Clandess Diner, the Moveable Feast, for around 30 to 40 diners.
For around $65 you get four to five courses, the pop-ups are staged at some of the coolest venues in the city (the exact location of which you are informed of the day before via email), while the seating is generally communal, so you’ll get to meet your fellow food enthusiast.
You may be thinking, okay, so how does this differ from Winnipeg’s other pop-ups? Well, how about how much experimentation these two “self-described gastronauts” bring to the table.
“We don’t like service as much as we like research,” said Sigrithur. “We’re interested in doing research that connects culture and storytelling to food. What we do is set a theme, then once we have this concept we get playful and make really great dishes out of it.”
Nathan Enns and Anna Sigrithur at their Offaly Delicious Feast in April 2015 (Clandess Diner)
One popular past dinner was based upon invasive species, where one dish included a bouillabaisse composed of rusty crayfish (aka Ohio River crayfish), a non-native, aggressive species of larger crayfish that has made its way into waterways like Lake of the Woods and Falcon Lake.
Another dinner theme was based around biomimicry and symbiosis in an ecosystem, with dishes including a fermented bean dumpling that was coated in corn then deep fried, along with a beer made from chaga and birch (chaga is a type of mushroom that grows primarily on birch trees).
Sigirthur, an academic from Winnipeg, started catering when she was 17, while Enns, who is originally from Calgary but has lived in a lot of places, first began seriously cooking on Vancouver Island at Locals Restaurant in Courtenay, BC. Currently his day job is as a handyman who is often fixing stuff for restaurants (which really comes in handy when they are catering).
Enns and Sigrithur with lichen (Clandess Diner)
Their next three Clandess Diners will take place from Friday, January 22 to Sunday, January 24 (one seating per night, you can purchase tickets online here) and it may just be the most exciting ones yet, as Sigirthur has added some incredible experience to her resume.
She just got back from spending six-months in Scandinavia (arguably the hottest food destination right now along with Peru and Mexico), where experiences included spending some time with reindeer herds in the Swedish Arctic while also interning at the world famous (in foodie culture, anyway) Nordic Food Lab in Denmark.
The Nordic Food Lab is a non-profit organization that Rene Redzepi and Claus Meyer co-founded in 2008. Redzepi is one of the world’s best chefs whose restaurant Noma (which Meyer also co-founded) has frequently been awarded as the world’s best. The Lab works as an, “open-source organization” that investigates food diversity and deliciousness.” It is now guided by head chef Roberto Flore.
While at the Nordic Food Lab, Anna produced some interesting podcasts on the Lab’s work that you can hear here, while she described the ongoing operations as a, “great combination of mad science — with things bubbling in weird, elite kitchen machinery, with lots of flavours and ferments — combined with really focused academia… all done in this tiny space in the University of Copenhagen.”
A big highlight for Anna at the Lab was the daily family meal (check out their Instagram account) that they would all co-create, which would then be enjoyed while researchers from all over the world would discuss food, food politics, and food systems.
Sigrithur with Kim Falck Petersen from the Greenlandic Embassy in Copenhagen after he taught her how to cook seal meat (Nordic Food Lab)
In the near future, Sigrithur and Enns said they would like to develop their own food lab like this in Winnipeg, especially when you consider the abundance of local ingredients that have yet to really be explored.
“I like how Winnipeg has a selection of world-class restaurants,” said Enns, “but we are just now starting to develop our own unique cuisine, which is interesting, because geographically this is such a distinct location.”
You can see their past menus here, where ingredients included pineapple weed, local buckwheat soba noodles, cattail flour and some very interesting local proteins.
Or better yet, bring your tastebuds on an adventure and book your tickets to see what out of the ordinary ingredients and dinner themes they will come up with next. Gluten free and vegetarian tickets are also available.