May 04, 2005

How much did those renovations cost?

Rob Feenie has recently appeared in television commercials for White Spot, trading on not only his name-brand recognition from his show on the Food Network, but his recent triumph on Iron Chef America.

It's bewildering. One can't help but wonder if our local boy is losing it, especially after seeing the dreadfully constructed ad for his own restaurants, Feenie's and Lumière, on the backs of buses. I have no objection to his advertising his own enterprises, although it looks as though he lost a bet and had to use something his competition picked out, frankly. The ads are ugly, and probably unnecessary. Both of his restaurants appear to be doing very well - filled with people every time I am there, or even walk past them. He owns one of the true destination restaurants in Canada in Lumière, and heaven only knows, the boy doesn't suffer from lack of exposure in this town.

Lumière was closed down for a while in April, for renovations. I haven't been back yet since it re-opened, although the menus look as delicious as ever (and the format has changed slightly for the tasting menus in the formal dining room). I really like the bar there - the staff know their drinks inside and out and you never have to worry that your vintage cocktail is going to show up in a metal "martini glass." The food at the bar is also exquisite - I haven't had a dish there that was less than fabulous, and some of them (the four-cheese macaroni, the wontons in Peking duck broth) I can get almost evangelical about.

In fact, as I have said before, I am willing to eat anything that Mr. Feenie puts down in front of me. This is partially why I'm so flinchy at his recent plugging of White Spot. The general thrust of the new White Spot adverts (some of which apparently feature John Bishop of Bishop's although I haven't seen that one yet) seems to be all about the use of fresh, local ingredients - something for which both Rob Feenie and John Bishop have long been vocal advocates. White Spot isn't adding foie gras to its (optimistically named) triple-o sauce, or forcing you into a prix-fixe format.

It seems like it should be a good deal for White Spot - endorsement of their product by some of the fanciest and shmanciest chefs in town, and since White Spot is a local chain, won't particularly contaminate their reputations abroad. However, is the name-brand endorsement really going to reach out to the target audience of White Spot? Is it going to elevate the clientele, or move the restaurant chain more up-market? Is it going to have anything other than amusing kitsch factor for the current patrons? Didn't it cost them a lot of money?

It would have to cost White Spot a lot of money. I cannot fathom how or why either of these chefs would stoop to shilling for a tedious local (BC & Alberta) burger chain without White Spot driving a dumptruck of money up to his house. With two booming restaurants, an established television show AND an Iron Chef America title under his belt, how much more does he need? Are we going to see him hawking his own line of cookware (although, that would be less irritating than what he's doing now)? Plugging the fish counter at Safeway? Has he lost all sense of perspective? Is it all a joke?

I can't help but be waiting for the other shoe to drop. I don't care if he does eat at White Spot, it looks like selling-out, to me.

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