Chef Rob Feenie – Cactus Club – British Columbia – Gold Medal Plates
#GoldMedalPlates Chefs from Canada will meet in Kelowna from February 9-11, 2012 to compete in the Gold Medal Plates Canadian Culinary Championships. I sent them some questions prior to the challenge. Here’s the scoop on Chef Rob Feenie for The Cactus Club in Vancouver.
What was your first food memory?
As a kid, it was looking forward to my mom’s turkey stuffing every holiday. She was not a flashy cook, but she cooked with a lot of love, and that is the best ingredient of all, but especially for comfort food, which was her forte.
What was in your elementary school lunch kit?
Peanut butter and jelly or ham and cheese sandwiches, fruit and a juice box.
Where did you first learn to cook?
I first learned to cook during a high school exchange program when I was 17. When I was 20, I attended the Dubrulle Culinary Institute in Vancouver.
Did you attend culinary school – if so, where?
Where has been your favourite place to work to date and why?
I really couldn’t pick a favourite – each of my experiences molded my career and who I am today, but I do have a soft spot for the time I spent learning in the kitchens of my mentors – including in Alsace with Emile Jung at Au Crocodile, and Johnny Letzer at his family’s inn, in Chicago with Charlie Trotter, and of course, right here in Vancouver with Michel Jacob at Le Crocodile.
Who in the industry taught you the most?
Michel Jacob, Charlie Trotter, and Johnny Letzer.
What is your favourite style of cooking?
Right now, I am really loving Italian, but of course, I will always love and appreciate French techniques.
What is your favourite ethnic cuisine?
What ingredient(s) can’t you live without?
Mushrooms, Butter, Cheese
What are the most essential tools for cooking?
Love and a passion for what you do will take you further than any gadget.
Do you have an unforgettable taste combination?
Champagne and caviar – it’s a lux combination and makes special occasions even more memorable
Ingredient you can’t get enough of?
Ingredient that will never touch your lips?
I am not a big fan of horse meat.
What is your most prized possession?
It’s not really a possession, but my family is what I value most in the world.
What basic recipe/s do you advise for cooking novices to learn as a starting point?
Mac n’ Cheese, BBQ’d anything!
What’s your go-to comfort food?
Pizza – a traditional Napoletana pizza
What’s your favourite cocktail?
Negroni or Manhattan
Do you have a guilty pleasure?
Sour ju-jubes from Superstore
What’s your definition of a perfect meal?
Surprisingly enough, I think a perfect meal starts with good company, great wine and zero stress. Regardless of what you are eating, these are key.
What do you always have on hand for last minute entertaining at home?
Tomato sauce and pizza dough
How do you unwind after service?
David’s Tea is always a good start, I love the organic crème brulee tea. I also love reading cookbooks and watching movies.
Most overrated food trend?
Nothing is overrated if people enjoy it.
Favourite culinary destination?
Japan, France, Spain.
Most memorable meal last year?
The steak tartare at Nota Bene, David Lee’s restaurant in Toronto.
If you weren’t a chef what career would you have pursued?
Golf – it’s my thing right now!
What would you eat at your last meal?
A 1.5 kg jar of caviar, a litre of crème fraiche and at least 50-60 warm bellini pancakes, polished off with and a double magnum of vintage Krug champagne.
Who are you dream dinner companions?
Bono – he is an incredible musician and I respect what he has done to make the world a better place.
Bill Clinton – he is such an inspiring leader and intelligent guy.
Pierce Brosnan – he’s an interesting actor and a fellow Irishman.
What do you do in your off time?
Spend time with my family, golf and cycle.
Where do you eat in your city when you are not working?
Le Crocodile and Cioppino’s
Are there some regional dishes your city is known for?
Seafood dishes with Ocean Wise fish are a must in Vancouver!
What is the dish/dishes your restaurant is known for?
At Cactus, the tuna tataki and the butternut squash ravioli are our most popular dishes and which I am very proud to have developed for our restaurants.
What dish will you be cooking for Gold Medal Plates?
That’s top secret – you’ll just have to find out when you’re there!
We chose the Haywire Pinot Noir. We used the Pinot Gris for our dish in Vancouver and wanted to do something a bit different. BC isn’t known for its Pinot Noir but this is a fantastic wine. Christine Colletta has done amazing work to promote BC wineries and develop the VQA program. She has a brilliant palette and I really admire her.
What ingredients have you brought with you?
Again – you’ll just have to be there!
Who have you brought with you to assist?
Matthew Stowe – an incredibly talented chef who I work with here at Cactus Restaurants in Vancouver and who I teamed up with for the Vancouver event.
And we are being joined by Jason Streefkerk – the amazing head chef at our Cactus Restaurant in Kelowna.
For the black box competition are there any strategies that you will employ to succeed?
You’ll just have to check out the competition to find out – that’s the fun of this event!
What challenges do you have to face as your travel to another destination to cook?
It’s going to be the same challenges for all of us – not knowing the local area and what is immediately available. Though I am from BC, the coast is far different from the Okanagan so it should be a ton of fun. I also really hope my loaded down van makes the long drive over the Coquihalla!
Who do you see as the toughest competitor this year?
Everyone! I am really proud to be representing BC with this group of chefs. They are all incredibly talented and events like Gold Medal Plates are a chance for us to celebrate Canadian culinary talent! This competition has really grown in recognition over the past few years and as such, so does the benefit for Canadian athletes. I am proud and excited to take part in such a worthwhile event.
Chef Feenie’s Gold Medal Plates Winning Dish