August 19, 2017

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Dinner party of 1,200

Most of us have cooked for two or four people — even up to a dozen or so — but what if a few more friends showed up for dinner?

Say about 1,200?

Jason Halstead / Winnipeg Free Press files</p><p>The first Table for 1200 More took place on the Esplanade Riel Bridge in 2014. </p>

Jason Halstead / Winnipeg Free Press files

The first Table for 1200 More took place on the Esplanade Riel Bridge in 2014.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Chefs Mandel Hitzer (left) and Ben Kramer will produce a meal for 1,200 this weekend at an outdoor space downtown that has yet to be announced. ‘This is fine restaurant-quality food — only on a massive scale,’ Kramer says.</p>

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Chefs Mandel Hitzer (left) and Ben Kramer will produce a meal for 1,200 this weekend at an outdoor space downtown that has yet to be announced. ‘This is fine restaurant-quality food — only on a massive scale,’ Kramer says.

That’s what chefs Mandel Hitzer, of Deer + Almond, and Ben Kramer, of custom catering chefbenkramer.com and formerly of Diversity Food Services, will discover for a fourth year as they put on their aprons, grab their spoons and spatulas and turn on stoves to create the Table for 1200 More dinner being held outdoors in the city on Saturday. The location will not be disclosed until the day of the event.

"It’s a big undertaking," Hitzer said.

"On the day of the dinner, we go from a crew of four to a team of around 20 to 25 in the kitchen. But, at the end of the day, the working part feels like I’m in my own restaurant. The only difference is volume.

"I go from preparing 24 beets to 900."

While the number of patrons — and the amount of food — expand exponentially from a restaurant, the food isn’t slapped together.

"This is not rubber chicken with baby carrots cut from a machine," Kramer said. "This is fine restaurant-quality food — only on a massive scale."

The event is the creation of StorefrontMB, whose mandate is to raise awareness of architecture and spatial design disciples.

The first dinner, held in 2014, converted the Esplanade Riel pedestrian bridge into a long dining room. The second one was held behind the Manitoba legislature, and last year’s event took place on Waterfront Drive.

Kramer said he sees the dinner as the kickoff to summer.

Kramer said holding it so early in the Manitoba growing season makes it a challenge to source local food, which they want to use as much as possible.

"For local, we’ll rely on root vegetables and storage crops," Kramer said. "The onions are from last year, and the quinoa, pork and beef are all local. We had local potatoes, but that fell through. We’ll have local greenhouse-raised tomatoes.

"Local is always our first option."

People who purchase tickets won’t be told where the event will be held until one hour before it starts.

The same goes for the menu. Each of the seven courses, served family-style on platters, will be a surprise until guests get to their tables.

There will be 150 tables of eight lined up in a row. It means the tables will run about 1,200 feet, or 365 metres, in length.

Tickets are $95 per person, with a limit of four per person, and $50 for students. Taxes and tips are included in the price.

There is no dress code, but guests are asked to dress in a "Winnipeg white-out’ theme.

Non-perishable food items will be delivered to Kitchen Sync, a large rental kitchen, today, but "the real cooking" doesn’t start until Thursday, Kramer said.

"It’s one thing to make a sauce, but it’s another to chop 50 pounds of onions. We start with getting the food and sorting it out. Then, we jump on peeling onions and peeling carrots."

"We do get some help," Hitzer interjects, but Kramer reminded him that last year "we did it ourselves. We did it just for fun to say we did it."

Last year, Kramer said, the chefs made their own brisket — they "cured, smoked, cut and braised" it.

"That took a week and a half, but it was worth it."

unlike many restaurants in the city, the chefs will even produce the dessert that will be served.

"Ben and I like to do every step," Hitzer said. "We don’t use pre-made food."

"The first year we decided to use the whole chicken," Kramer said. "We broke it all down."

"That was awesome," Hitzer said, "but it was a lot of work."

It’s not the only outdoor pop-up restaurant meal that Hitzer has hosted.

He’s responsible for the wintertime Raw:almond, where guests dine on fine food while sitting at tables and chairs on top of the frozen Red and Assiniboine rivers.

Kramer is no stranger to serving large numbers of people. He feeds the volunteers and musicians at the annual Winnipeg Folk Festival.

"This is one-third of one of the meals we do there," he said.

"At the Folk Fest, I feed 4,000 people breakfast, lunch and dinner for a week."

Kramer said the biggest difference between preparing restaurant food and this event is "the prep is a little more casual.

"With restaurants, you are waiting for customers and for them to decide what they will order."

"With my restaurant, we come in at 2 p.m. and dinner starts at five with a 16-item menu," Hitzer said. "Here, we do a seven-course menu for 1,200 people at it takes a week."

Kramer said they will serve 1,200 people at 150 tables, with seven dishes, and each table getting two platters per course.

"That’s 2,100 platters of food," he said.

"We’ll do that in 45 minutes to an hour," Hitzer said.

There have been hiccups along the way. In the first year, the chefs realized all of the food containers couldn’t fit into the truck they had.

"We didn’t account for the wheel wells inside the truck," Kramer said.

Because this is Winnipeg, Hitzer said, "sure enough, a guy in the parking lot offers Ben a ride to The Forks to help."

"He was picking up his wife in a truck — his huge truck," Kramer said, cracking a huge smile. "That was Year One."

At some point the two chefs will do what has become their tradition — they will walk the entire length of the tables.

"It is so overwhelming to see the smiles of everybody," Hitzer said.

"We can all walk and bike around the city, but to have a communal table is pretty special."

After serving in some pretty unique places, the chefs have one dream location they’d love to hold the event.

"Portage and Main," Kramer said without hesitation.

"The city hasn’t said no, but it is cost-prohibitive. That would be for all the road closures."

Hitzer said Portage and Main "would be amazing. But we would have to redirect traffic.

"Maybe someday."

kevin.rollason@freepress.mb.ca

Read more by Kevin Rollason.

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