It’s a fact of life. People just have to ask me: “What’s your favourite restaurant?”
It’s always tough to answer because, as a rule, I don’t play favourites. “It depends,” I’ll say …
Chances are it might be the ‘flavour of the month:’ the place that’s just left a ‘lasting’ impression. Or, there may be a few. Or, most likely—especially if they’re looking for a ‘go to,’ ‘special occasion‘ room—it will be a stalwart, like Le Crocodile.
Back when I worked with Zagat—when it was still the original and most potent of restaurant rating agencies—there was an unmistakable core group of chefs and restos always at the fore. Zagat had a category separate from food ratings, called ‘Most Popular.’ And Le Crocodile was usually at the top of the list, or very close to it—as well as always capturing the top French spot. (In those days we used to scrutinize every hand-written ballot and virtually eliminate ballot-stuffing. But that’s another story.)
Le Crocodile Anniversary Dinners
In early November Le Crocodile owner and chef Michel Jacob staged a series of dinners to mark his remarkable restaurant’s 30th anniversary.
True to form, this unassuming star of Vancouver’s culinary scene shifted the spotlight away from himself by inviting chefs David Hawksworth (Hawksworth), Ned Bell (Vancouver Four Seasons, Yew) and Rob Feenie (Cactus Club Café) to cook with him and his team, each for one night.
It’s fair to say all three have had a profound impact on the city, in contrasting ways. Here’s a dynamic trio of chefs who drive not only our tastes but also our dining philosophies—for instance surrounding sustainability—on several levels.
All were protegés at one time—which speaks volumes of Jacob’s contribution. Also, as it happened, Rob Feenie was just about ready to throw in the towel and head for a career as a firefighter. However, Jacob persuaded him otherwise and became his mentor, even arranging a stage at Strasbourg’s legendary Au Crocodile, where he himself started.
Speaking after the meal, Feenie didn’t hold back.
“Every accolade I’ve ever had is because of you, Michel,” he said, after working with the Le Crocodile team to prepare a superb menu that included his lumière classic: butternut squash and mascarpone ravioli with black truffle butte. It’s still a showstopper—even more so paired with Hugel 2009 Pinot Gris.
Then came roasted sea bass and lobster tempura, and a duo of prime rub and tenderloin with celery root purée and black truffle port wine jus.
Said Feenie: “The phone call I had from (Cactus Club owner) Richard Jaffray would never have happened, had it not been for Michel.” …
“The memories you (Michel) have created for this city are quite remarkable.”
“Truly, it’s the passion is what makes great restaurants brilliant.”
With more than a few luminaries on hand, there was no shortage of tributes but I loved this one from longtime wine importer (Select Wines) Werner Schonberger, who supplied the evening’s wines:
“This is my staff cafeteria! Besides, Michel is Alsatian—and French savoir faire with German discipline is what Alsace is all about…”
“What I appreciate is that he (Michel) turned down an offer to cook with Jean-Georges (Vongerichten) and honoured instead his three Canadian executive chefs.”
Michel Jacob is one of our great mentors. Especially if you’re in the business, in Vancouver, who do you think are the others?