Breakfast with Rob Feenie

This morning, I attended Rob Feenie’s The Business of Being a Chef breakfast at the Canadian Chef’s Conference. Feenie’s interest in cuisine started while he attended a high school exchange program in Europe. He’s recognized both nationally and internationally. Feenie’s Lumière became the first freestanding restaurant in Canada to receive the Relais Gourmand designation in 2000. He’s also known for being the first Canadian to win the Iron Chef America competition.

Breakfast with Rob Feenie

Feenie started off the morning event by giving nods to some of his earlier inspirations. Being able to pick up everything locally while working at a tiny Strasbourg restaurant left a lasting impression on him. His situation back then helped to shape Lumière, which he opened in 1995.

“Success as a chef always starts and ends with the quality of the products.”

There should be no compromise when it comes to the quality of ingredients. At Feenie’s restaurants, food products are sourced from all over Canada: Quebec, BC, and Ontario to name a few. Products play the starring role, whether it’s organic veggies or aged cheese to marry well with BC ingredients. He’s always been after a truly Canadian culinary experience.

Feenie still carries a 16 year old list with original suppliers! It was only two pages long back then; now it’s most likely grown to about 20 or 30. He stressed the positive impact that locally sourced products have had on Canadian cuisine. Small, independent businesses carry fantastic products but struggle to find markets.

Feenie helped start the trend of buying products locally, which had an impact on the food economy. Because of this, local, sustainably-grown and produced products can be found not only in Feenie’s current Cactus Club restaurants, but in many other Vancouver establishments.

Promotion is very important for chefs. Influencing others and how the industry is perceived is a big responsibility for chefs. Where Canadians buy their food benefits both chefs and restaurants in the end. Supporting and sourcing sustainable products means aiding our local food industry. Vendors sustain restaurants by delivering quality products. “We don’t need to look beyond our front door to get the best products possible.”

Feenie is a founding member of both the OceanWise and Green Table organizations. These both helped to link important economic and social links between Cactus Club and the broader community.

He also discussed self-promotion. Feenie believes that Vancouver is now getting the recognition that it deserves as a foodie city, but it’s up to Vancouver’s chefs to shine the light on the diversity and quality of its talent and culinary landscape.

Plenty of obstacles have recently stood in the way of Vancouver’s restaurant scene, such as stricter drinking and driving laws, the effects of the HST, and slow recovery of the recession. Options for many restaurants are slim. It’s time for chefs to step outside of their kitchens and comfort zones to promote both their teams and themselves. Feenie strongly believes that it’s needed to raise Vancouver’s status as a dining designation city.

“It’s not just about me, it’s about all of us.”

Breakfast with Rob Feenie

A public relations “home run” can help both a restaurant and Vancouver’s destination status as a food industry, which in turn will open more doors for chefs, moving restaurants forward as a national industry.

Mass media is a good way to both reach audiences and promote our region. Chefs need to have drive and a willingness to make their restaurant a successful venture. Promotion is now part of the business of being a chef. Showing leadership outside of the kitchen will not only draw attention to yourself but to Canada as a whole. Feenie’s advice? Get a chef’s blog, do cooking demos, contribute articles and write cookbooks. This will aid ALL chefs. The 2010 Olympics was a coming out of sorts for international exposure, putting us on the right track for a breakthrough. According to Feenie, “the future of business in Canada is bright for chefs.”

Breakfast with Rob Feenie

Feenie took questions at the end of the session. I asked him about food carts and their place in Vancouver. His answer? As long as they’re worked into our local economy intelligently, they won’t create unnecessary competition, benefitting the entire Vancouver restaurant scene.


  • Pingback by Breakfast with Robert Clark | ariane c design — June 16, 2011 @ 4:05 pm

    […] featured Chef Robert Clark, Executive Chef of C Restaurant. Similar in theme to Monday’s session with Rob Feenie, Clark used different points to drive home the sustainability message. He admitted […]

  • Comment by Dawn Donahue — July 3, 2011 @ 2:02 pm

    Thanks Ariane – great coverage

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