Chef Tina Fineza's legacy in Vancouver's kitchens

Beloved Vancouver chef Tina Fineza died last month after a long battle with breast cancer.

Beloved Vancouver chef Tina Fineza died in January after a long battle with breast cancer

Tina Fineza led many kitchens in some of Vancouver's top restaurants, paving the way for other female chefs to start their own restaurants in a male-dominated industry. (Earls Restaurant and Bar)

Even if you don't know her name, there's a good chance you've eaten her food because she has inspired many successful chefs and restaurant owners in Vancouver.

Vancouver chef Tina Fineza died January 7, 2016 after a long battle with breast cancer.

She was known in the restaurant industry for her bright smile and ability to mix a range of cuisine in her creations. Fineza consulted on Vancouver's first food truck and helped build menus for award-winning restaurants like Les Faux Bourgeois, Flying Tiger, and others.

Fineza, who grew up in the Philippines, moved to Vancouver to study film, but her love for cooking took over and she ended up going to culinary school instead.

She told CBC's Margaret Gallagher in 2005 she owed much of her success to friends.

"All the friends ... you have all these cooks that you've experienced in your lifetime, and they bring so much."

Mentee becomes mentor

Chef Tina Fineza came to Vancouver for film school, but soon fell in love with cooking instead. (Earls Restaurant and Bar)

Chef Frank Pabst of Blue Water Cafe was one of her mentors when Fineza first started out 20 years ago. They met while working at the renowned restaurant, Lumiere.

"She had a tremendous passion for food and for life," Pabst said. "She always asked many many questions, She was like a sponge wanting to absorb everything in a very quick time."

By 1999, Fineza was chef de cuisine at Bin 942, where she inspired a fellow chef to start her own restaurant.

"Tina was very cutting edge in that she was a chef in the kitchen, and at that time, when we first started our careers, it was a very male-dominated industry," said Lila Gaylie, who owns Lolita, a Mexican restaurant on Davie Street.

"To see her as somebody at the head of that was very inspiring and she was very much an inspiration to me wanting to do my own thing and and to be independent within my business."

'Faith and dedication'

Fineza's colleagues say she worked hard to make everyone comfortable in her kitchen. (Earls Restaurant and Bar)

Friends say Fineza was always in-demand, whether it was as a chef or a consultant, or simply because people loved working with her in the kitchen.

When James Iranzad, the brain behind Wildebeest, opened an Asian street food restaurant, The Flying Tiger, in 2006, Fineza was the only must-have chef on his list to hire.

Love, patience and humility, that's all.- Tina Fineza , chef

"This is such a creative field that we're in, but it's so grounded in the way we interact with other people and she was so fierce about that stuff and about only working with people that had that mindset," Iranzad said. "And if they didn't, then she'd do her damndest to help them get them there.

"That level of faith and dedication is one of my favourite things about her and that,we want to continue."

Fineza also started her own consulting company, Servicex2, which she ran with her life partner Annette Rawlinson. They worked behind the scenes at places like Terra Breads and La Taqueria to shape their menus.

A lasting legacy

Fineza's legacy of helping young women start their careers in the kitchen will live on in a scholarship set up in her name through the B.C. Chapter of Les Dames D'Escoffier, a culinary organization for women.

In 2005, she told CBC what it was like to be the only women in a high-powered kitchen.

"You're born with a capability to do the best no matter creed, religion, sex, orientation," she said. "If you love food, I think it'll show and they'll know.

"Love, patience and humility, that's all."

Friends and family are holding Fineza's celebration of life on Sunday. 

To listen to the full audio, click the link labelled: Colleagues celebrate the life of chef Tina Fineza.

With files from Margaret Gallagher


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