You may know Rob Feenie as the first Canadian to win on "Iron Chef America" after defeating the show's in-house chef, Masaharu Morimoto, in a culinary duel.
But that was back in 2005.
Since then, Feenie has gone on to publish recipe books, create, own and cook at a couple of Vancouver restaurants before joining the Cactus Club Cafe, where he currently sits as the chain's executive chef.
Despite Feenie's days as a reality show contestant being long over, he still channels the same poise and energy from his time as a competitor, albeit in a space a fraction of the size found on "Iron Chef."
In an upstairs demo kitchen in mid-town Toronto, some 4,300 km away from his home in White Rock, B.C., Feenie guides a team of sous chefs as they ready octopus stew, tuna carpaccio and roasted squab breast for a dozen guests.
Also tagging along with Feenie are new Cactus Club Cafe locations. After opening the chain's latest location in Edmonton, the franchise is looking to bring Ontario its first location with a restaurant in downtown Toronto for 2014.
The Huffington Post Canada sat down with the chef after the meal and a few glasses of wine to grill him on food, travel and how it can all tie into Canadian cuisine.
I get the feeling you travel a lot. What’s your most memorable food city?
Barcelona. I had one of the best people to show me it: the late Santi Santamaria, who unfortunately passed away a couple of years ago. To have, at the time, what diners considered one of the top chefs in Spain show you Barcelona, and eventually his restaurant, is something I’ll never forget. In fact, for my tenth anniversary, I’m taking my wife to Paris for two days and Barcelona for four.
Tonight we did a lot of drinking –
Well, you did.
Fair enough. What do you make after a boozy night out?
Ha, I don’t actually recommend doing that. Sometimes I’ll actually open up an old bottle of wine like a Tempranillo and make my pizza. I keep dough in the freezer and I always have pizza sauce ready to go for a home-made pie. They’re easy to make and they’re not like a deep-dish pizza; they’re thin. When the kids go to bed on the weekends, that's when my wife and I make it — otherwise the kids eat the whole thing.
And you keep those ingredients on hand?
Tomato sauce is always in the fridge. I’ll have some Parmesan, some olive oil, basil, and some cured meats like prosciutto lying around so I put it together real quick. It's not throwing everything on.
What’s in your emergency survival pantry?
I’m a big fan of olive oils. I’ve got anywhere between 19 to 20 olive oils in my kitchen right now, so olive oil is a big one for me. Sea salt is another big one for me and tomato sauce I make from scratch and keep as opposed to buying it. They’re all easy things to work with. And oh, vinegars. A nice balsamic or an aged sherry.
What would you be doing if you weren't a chef?
I’d be a professional golfer. I love the sport and have been playing it for just over 10 years now.
Let's bring things closer to home. How do you define Canadian cuisine?
I think Canadian food is really about identity these days.
What I get excited about is local food — whether it’s our beef, our pork or our fish, our vegetables or dairy. You know, Quebec alone produces over 300 variety of cheese, so that’s what I look at from a Canadian perspective. It’s also about supporting our suppliers — backing them up and backing local. And it’s not necessarily about being organic, but it’s about local. That’s what being truly Canadian is.
I also think the multiculturalism in this country has really helped us developed because I look at Vancouver and the Chinese, Filipino and Vietnamese cuisine and that’s what we do as well. There’s no distinct way of cooking, I think we’ve got great product and it's how we integrate it.
What's a Canadian restaurant you'd recommend?
What's the best restaurant you think no one's ever heard of?
Supporting my own community is important to me. The Seahorse Grill in Crescent Beach, B.C. is my and my wife's favourite neighbourhood restaurant. It’s small, cozy and the food is simple but very well prepared.
What’s a unique food you’d recommend trying?
I’ve been out to Japan where I’ve had Fugu (blowfish) — no one has to worry since I’ve never cut it — but I had two sushi chefs there serve it to me and all I ate was fugu. I had everything from the soup with the bones to the meat four or five times a day. For me, I think of how scared I was because we went straight to the fish market in Osaka, picked them up and looked at these things thinking “I could die”. But for me, that was a magical moment. I love sashimi and I got treated by these two chefs and that was two of the most memorable days in my career.
What’s the craziest thing you’ve done in the kitchen, culinary or otherwise?
I lost all the gas in one of the restaurants I was working at with the last 15 customers still to cook for. I was in Whistler at this place called Mama’s Café. Luckily I was with a bunch of bushmen. We made this makeshift fire and I cooked the rest of the meals on that. It was crazy.
Like this article? Follow our Facebook page
Or follow us on Twitter
Also on HuffPost:
Bistro 71/4, Winnipeg, Manitoba
Cheese plates, charcuterie boards and a standout pound cake with flambéed bananas and ice cream are just some of the standout dishes at Bistro 71/4.
Champs Sports Bar And Nightclub, Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan
If you're looking for a restaurant with livelihood, Champs Sports Bar and Nightclub. Highlights include plenty of beers on tap like Stella Artois and Labatt 50 and a menu that's big on portions and variety. Try their perogies, Pogo dog or The Pot Belly burger, a pork patty topped with grilled apple and plenty of sharp cheddar.
Chez Sophie Bistro And Pizzeria, Winnipeg, Manitoba
If you're in the mood for French, Chez Sophie may be just the right spot for you. The restaurant's cozy and quaint atmosphere is inviting but what keeps people coming back is the food. There’s a generous heaping of locally made Trappist monk cheese in the tartiflette, a bubbling casserole of potatoes, onions, bacon and cream and should be a must-try for visitors.
Cow's Creamery, Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island
Travellers with a sweet tooth will want to stop by the Cow's Creamery for what locals call some of the best ice cream in the country. What sets this ice cream apart from the rest is that it's only made from the milk of P.E.I. cows.
Deer + Almond, Winnipeg, Manitoba
For a meal that's both inventive and creative, check out Deer + Almond. The restaurant is the home to Mandel Hitzer, a chef who likes to get creative with his cooking. Patrons shouldn't be alarmed if their dishes include things like horseradish, trout roe or furikake, a salty Japanese condiment. Pictured is the restaurant's St Andre Agnolotti.
Dutch Bakery, Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan
If you're hankering for a pastry, the Dutch Bakery can help. But come early and prepare to wait as lines of patrons peer at the enormous cinnamon buns, glazed poppy-seed buns and jam busters.
Gahan House Pub Brewery & Mercantile, Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island
If you're craving fish and chips, The Gahan House Pub & Brewery has what you're looking for. The pub is known for its famous brown-bag fish and chips, which looks exactly as it sounds. Other stand out fare include PEI mussels steamed in Gahan lager and the pub's seven hand-crafted beers
Hopkins Dining Parlour, Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan
For a dining experience that's elegant as it is delicious, check out Hopkins Dining Parlour, located inside a stunning old mansion. The restaurant is known for its beef dishes, with the prime rib, filet mignon and strip loin round being the standout. Fans of seafood will also be right at home with Alaskan crab, lobster, sole and salmon also available.
Kergano's Bar & Grill, Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan
If you were to summarize Kergano's in three words, they'd have to be: "local", "hip" and "delicious". If you want to describe it in six, add in "pork side ribs" into the mix. Travellers can get a sense of what's cooking based on the specials scribbled on the chalk board outside the door. The restaurant also features free mini-concerts with local musicians.
Lobsters On The Wharf, Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island
Regarded as Charlottetown's oldest seafood market, this East Coast gem is also known as MacKinnon’s to the locals. Whatever you call it, just be sure to stop by and pick up a lobster for an authentic PEI dining experience.
Lot 30, Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island
Travellers looking for an ethnic twist on P.E.I.'s fresh and local produce will want to check out Lot 30. Here, chef and owner Gordon Bailey likes to make use of the province's seafood and culinary flare, like his citrus vanilla vinaigrette.
Moulin De Provence, Ottawa, Ontario
Located in the heart of Ottawa's ByWard Market, this bakery's claim to fame is their colourful iced sugar cookies. They're the same cookies that have designs commemorating visits by President Barack Obama and the Royals Will and Kate.
Ottawa Zak's Dinner, Ottawa, Ontario
Another ByWard Market favourite, Zak’s Diner is well-known for their burgers, poutines and the thickest of milkshakes.
Raw Sugar Café, Ottawa, Ontario
Travellers looking to get their caffeine fix can't go wrong with Raw Sugar Café. The laid-back eatery features veggie-friendly eats, a wide selection of treats and a funky atmosphere thanks to its mismatched chairs and local art that hangs on the walls.
Segovia Tapas Bar, Winnipeg, Manitoba
At Segovia, patrons can reward their taste buds with seared scallops, chorizo with gala apples and confit rabbit. Just be sure to leave room for their cinnamon churros and Spanish hot chocolate.
Sim's Steakhouse And Oyster Bar, Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island
Want to know what the city of Charlottetown tastes like? Then you'll be hard pressed to find another restaurant that does local food like Sim's. Highlights here include the oysters and the steak, both which come from the island.
Terre Rouge Bistro Marche, Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island
This little bistro is well-known for their locally made charcuterie which highlights the restaurant's farm-to-table focus and partnerships with P.E.I. farmers.
The Courtyard, Ottawa, Ontario
For the hungry traveller looking to grab dinner, Courtyard Restaurant offers just that against the scenic backdrop of its old stone building. Highlights from the menu include the duck, elk and steelhead trout.
The Scone Witch, Ottawa, Ontario
Whether you're heading into or head out of Ottawa, a trip just isn't complete without a stop at Scone Witch for lunch. Make no mistakes, these aren't your average scones and include filings like mushroom ragout and scrambled eggs or goat cheese and pesto.
The Wellington Gastropub, Ottawa, Ontario
For inventive fine dining, head to The Wellington Gastropub which features something for everyone from their asparagus risotto to their arctic char and beer-brined pork loin. Don't forget to finish things off with a round of Adriana’s ice cream -- available both for ordering in or for take out.
Veroba's Family Restaurant, Moose Jaw Saskatchewan
If you're in the city of Moose Jaw and looking for breakfast, Veroba’s is the place to go. Highlights include their eggs Benedict which come with a heaping side of hash browns dotted with green onions.
Water Prince Corner Shop, Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island
This rustic restaurant specializes in Atlantic lobster and boats a creamy, chunky seafood chowder that's well worth the trip.
Young Folk And The Kettle Black, Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island
This Charlottetown gem stands out amongst its coffee-shop peers thanks to its low-key atmosphere, art-lined walls and freshly baked goods.