Though I no longer work at a major daily and this blog is my sole outlet for the need to talk about food, Rob Feenie returns my request for a quick interview almost as soon as I put it in. He sounds both relaxed and excited as he explains his reasons for coming out to cook on the celebrity stage at the Eat! Fraser Valley show in Abbotsford this weekend.

He is there, he says, to promote the fact his employers, the Cactus Club Restaurants, are planning to open a restaurant in Abbotsford later this year. Although Feenie is described rather grandly as “Food Concept Architect” for the Cactus Club chain (don’t know if I would find a food concept all that appetizing, but never mind!), I have to admit, the food at CC has improved considerably since he’s taken over the menu and recipe development duties.

Rob Feenie

For those of you who may not know, Feenie was for many years the Golden Boy of Vancouver’s restaurant scene with his Lumiere Restaurant, which garnered too many awards to mention. He also won the Iron Chef title on the Food Network’s Iron Chef competition a few years ago. And he says he wouldn’t mind going back to the bright lights and pressures of that fierce competition.

But for now, Feenie seems content with his role at the CC chain, which gives him time to enjoy being Dad to three kids aged two, four and six. “My wife and my kids are now the most important things in my life,” says Feenie, who will cook some of his trademark dishes this weekend, including squash soup,  mini pulled-pork and grilled cheese buns and raw-milk ricotta and fresh herb ravioli.

Also on the cooking stage this weekend are Lynn Crawford, host of the Food Network’s Pitchin’ In, and chefs Quang Dang of Diva at the Met in Vancouver, Scott Jaeger of the Pear Tree in Burnaby and Ned Bell of Cabana in Kelowna. Each of these chefs has earned his or her spurs for culinary excellence and you’re sure to pick up some great cooking tips as well as some fine recipes when you stop by at the cooking stage. Check the schedule if you’re interested in seeing a particular chef in action.

This is Eat! Fraser Valley’s third year at the Tradex Centre and it is bigger than ever. Among the many food producers with booths at the show are Hills Fine Foods of Coquitlam, which offers chefs and foodies the best of local and imported exotic meats; Gelderman Farms of Abbotsford which produces terrific pork sausages and other pork products; Goodness of Garlic Products where the stinking rose finds its way into jellies, chutneys, vinegars and oils, among other tasty things; Holy Grail savoury  sauces, including tamarind, chimichurri and smoky tomato, and sweet caramel sauces deepened with other flavours such as coconut, orange, whiskey and amaretto; and Redl’s  pasture-raised beef from the Williams Lake area.

Lots of other things happening, too, including wine, beer and spirits tastings featuring both B.C. and international products such as Dead Frog Brewing, E&J Gallo, Sea Cider of Vancouver Island, UV Vodka and Mt. Lehman Winery; cheese seminars with the Dairy Farmers of Canada who bring with them cheese samples from across the country; and Bite of the Valley featuring a handful of local restaurants that offer samples of their fare for a few bucks each.

In all, it’s a foodie’s paradise, valley-style, so bring an appetite. The show opens Friday at 2 p.m. and runs until Sunday. Tickets are $12. More information at http://www.eat-fraservalley.com.