AFTER AN EPIC BOUT OF SLOW-SIMMERING DELIBERATION, Vancouver chef Rob Feenie has, at last, decided to do what innumerable discriminating food lovers had long hoped he would — return to running his own show. His plan is to open a new 120-seat eponymous restaurant sometime in late 2022. And all the while — pre-launch, and after — to keep one well-remunerated toe in the door at Cactus Club, in an ongoing consulting role.
“Cactus has been very good to me and my family,” Feenie readily volunteers of his long run as the culinary face of the 31-restaurant chain. “But it’s also been a difficult period for me. All I want now is to get back to food.”
What he means by that is dealing once again with small and quirky, quality obsessed restaurant suppliers and using the best products he can source for crafting smart, elegant new dishes possessed of genuine finesse. Food of the sort he was irrepressibly passionate about in his glory days at Lumière.
“I used to tell my young cooks all the time, ‘The moment you lose your passion or your interest in this career, get out — there’s no sense in doing it anymore,’ ” Feenie recalls.
“I need to take my own advice and get back to what I DO BEST BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE.”
The awkward fact of the matter is that Cactus Club has now employed Feenie for 14 years, whichis far longer than he owned and ran Lumière — his tasting-menu-only, Les Grandes Tables du Monde– certified fine-dining mecca — never mind Feenie’s, its shorter-lived casual adjunct. Of Feenie’s three children, only Devin, the eldest, is old enough to remember Dad cooking in his own restaurant kitchen instead of merely on TV. And Feenie now yearns to show his teenagers what he was once all about.
“A couple of months back, [American chef and restaurateur] Thomas Keller asked me what I really wanted to do and I said, ‘Lumière!’ But the fact is,” he recounts, “I don’t think people want to sit down to dinner for that long anymore. And the energy that took — I’m not 30 anymore. Wanting to be the best in the country — that’s behind me. Now, I just want to do my own thing.”
The location for Feenie’s thing has yet to be finalized. But its name will be Rob Feenie. Or possibly Feenie’s (again). Whatever it’s called, the offer will be more ambitious than Feenie’s 1.0 and less formally orchestrated than that of Lumière. The plan is simply for a chef-driven restaurant with a highly seasonal, and mostly local, menu and an à la carte service — save for the chef ’s counter or tasting room. And chef Feenie will be there, at the pass and on the floor, mingling with his customers and seeking feedback, just like he used to do.
“I’ve never been more nervous about an opening. I’m way more nervous than when I was opening Lumière in ’95. The expectations are so much higher. It scares me!” —STAFF