Not long ago we had the pleasure of meeting and talking with Chef Rob Feenie, Canada’s own Iron Chef. Prior to this we received an e-mail from Trevor Brooks, the Regional Manager for Cactus club restaurants, this was in response to our review of the North Calgary location of Cactus Club Cafe (which was less than stellar). As it turns out Trevor was very interested in what we’d written about this location and since we’d had a bad experience he was wanting us to return to the same store and give them a second try. I was a little reluctant to do so but given the fact that Nancy and I’d had many good experiences dining at Cactus Club in the past and were ourselves so stunned by the terrible experience we’d had on our last visit I thought that they did indeed deserve a second chance, so we phoned the dining companion we’d been with on that night and decided to return on the following Saturday. The second experience was exactly what we’d come to expect from dining at Cactus Club, the food was excellent and the service top notch, all in all it was a great evening and more than made up for the previous comedy of errors we’d put up with, an experience we’ll now chalk up to a very bad day for the restaurant.
During my correspondence with Mr. Brooks on this subject he informed me that the following week Chef Rob Feenie would be visiting Calgary to check on quality with local suppliers and also that he would be at the South Calgary location of Cactus Club to check on the kitchen and see how things are going with the new menu items he’s added since taking over the culinary reins for the chain as “Food Concept Architect” about a year and a half ago. We were happy to have the chance to be there and said we’d definitely be on hand to meet chef Feenie.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock(or maybe in Edmonton) and don’t know who Rob Feenie is I’ll give you a little background information on him. Rob Feenie is from Burnaby, B.C., where even as a kid he loved to spend time in the kitchen, a passion which reached a turning point during a high school exchange program in Europe. At 20 he enrolled in the Dubrulle International Culinary and Hotel Institute of Canada in Vancouver, Canada’s leading culinary school. After graduation, he started as a Sous-chef in some of the region’s top restaurants, the Rim Rock Café and Oyster Bar in Whistler, B.C., Vancouver’s Cherrystone Cove and Crocodile. After stints in Alsace with Chef Emile Jung at Au Crocodile and Antoine Westermann at Le Buerehiesel, both of which are Michelin three-star-rated restaurants, in Chicago with America’s top chef, Charlie Trotter and in New York with Daniel Boulud and Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Chef Feenie returned to Vancouver and opened his own restaurant named Lumière allowing him to now showcase his culinary talent back home. Since Lumière opened in 1995, Fennie himself has received numerous accolades from even the most discerning food critics. Under Feenie Lumière has received many awards, such as Best Restaurant and Best French Restaurant for an unprecedented seven years in a row. In November 2000, Lumière received one of the highest honors a French restaurant can get: it became the first freestanding restaurant in Canada to receive the Relais Gourmand designation. This honor is reserved specifically for those who cater to the passions of the art of living, quality, refinement and a sense of the exceptional. In 2003, Feenie opened the Lumière Tasting Bar at the entrance of Lumière and in the summer of that year he also opened Feenie’s, a Canadian casual bistro right next door to Lumière’s. Feenie’s would go on win best new restaurant for 2004.
With both national and international recognition, Chef Feenie has developed a reputation as a top chef-consultant. He next opened the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Toronto and from there he undertook the monumental task of restructuring the dining experience at Le Régence in the Hotel Plaza Athenée in Manhattan pulling the restaurant “right out of the doldrums,” according to the New York Times. Now he is often called upon to represent Canada, traveling as an Ambassador for Canadian and British Columbia food, wines, and sharing Canada’s culinary talents with the rest of the world. He has published a number of books and has a Food Network show called New Classic’s With Chef Rob Feenie. In 2005 Chef Feenie was the guest chef on Iron Chef America’s “Battle Crab” in which he soundly trounced Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto in Food Network’s Kitchen Stadium, a major upset victory.
As for our evening…
We arrived at Cactus Club prior to the dinner rush and were seated right away. We ordered some drinks and an appie to get things going (our review of the South Calgary Cactus Club will be posted soon). We ordered a second appie, the Tuna Tataki which we’d tried for the first time at the North location and had enjoyed. Soon after the tuna arrived Chef Feenie came over and introduced himself to Nancy and I, we asked him to have a seat which he did and we enjoyed a nice conversation over the next 20 minutes or so. During our conversation we asked him about his additions to the Cactus club menu and his experience on Iron Chef , he gave us a very interesting explanation of what goes on at the show and was able to share some first hand information with us, proving the New York newspaper expose article I’d read about it to be nonsense. Chef Feenie even told us in some detail how to make is famous and extremely good Butternut Squash ravioli but we never wrote it down, I don’t do pasta anyway the dough never works for me. After a while we had to let him get back to work and after sitting with us for a quick picture he said his goodbyes and was off to the kitchen. We then enjoyed the rest of our meal and now have a great memory to add to the rest for this year.
It was a wonderful evening which we both enjoyed very much, Chef Feenie proved to be a very approachable person who is pleasant to speak with, we delighted in the conversation we shared enormously and hope to have occasion to speak with him in the future. If you ever have the chance to attend an event where he is present don’t let the chance to say hello pass you by, he’s really a great guy.