“I think casual dining is an evolution and is part of the whole dining scene that is going on in Canada,” says the former owner of two restaurants in his native city who in 2008 became executive chef of Cactus Club Cafe, a chain of restaurants in Western Canada.
He has produced three cookbooks, starred in “New Classics with Chef Rob Feenie” on Food Network Canada and in 2005 was the first Canadian to win on the television show “Iron Chef America” by defeating chef Masaharu Morimoto.
The 47-year-old Feenie is married with three children and this has also been a huge influence on his views toward home and approachable food preparation.
Nothing is more evident of his affection for family life than his latest cookbook, “Rob Feenie’s Casual Classics: Everyday Recipes for Family and Friends” (Douglas & McIntyre, $29.95, paperback).
“Our kids like to cook with me,” he says proudly, “and now I have my weekends free I spend a lot of time cooking at home with them.”
To emphasize this closeness of family, the book has photos of Feenie, his wife Michelle and children Devon, Jordan and Brooklyn.
“Eventually I will teach the kids some skills and safety tips, but they are more hands on when we make pancakes from scratch,” their father says, “Right now they want to put the ingredients in the bowl and mix, so we let them do that.”
He believes the casual dining scene is a reflection of the fact more people are becoming aware of fresh produce as more farmers markets are popping up.
“We are seeing this real wave of emotion and attachment to food in this country,” he adds.
Feenie has fond memories of his childhood when Sunday dinner was family night and now he prepares something special for his kin.
“Having the kids involved in eating at home together with parents, grandparents and other family members is really important to us,” he says.
If getting the kids to eat broccoli is a chore, Feenie includes this recipe in the book. It is one of his children's favourites.
Broccoli With Pecorino Cheese
Head broccoli, cut in florets (about 1.25 l/5 cups)
30 ml (2 tbsp) extra-virgin olive oil
250 ml (1 cup) grated pecorino Romano cheese
250 ml (1 cup) grated Gruyere cheese
Juice of 1 lemon (about 30 ml/2 tbsp)
Fill a large bowl with ice water. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil on high heat. Blanch broccoli for 1 minute. Immediately drain broccoli in a colander and plunge into ice water. Drain broccoli again and set aside.
Position an oven rack about 15 cm (6 inches) below broiler element and heat broiler.
In a large frying pan, heat oil on low. Add broccoli and toss to coat well, then add cheeses and toss lightly until warmed through, 3 to 4 minutes.
Transfer broccoli mixture to an ovenproof casserole dish and place under broiler. Watch closely while it forms a light brown crust, 4 to 5 minutes, then remove from oven. Squeeze lemon juice over broccoli and serve immediately.
Makes 6 servings.