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Restaurant Rescue 101 with Chef Tina Fineza

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In Pulp Fiction, Harvey Keitel plays Mr Wolf, a fixer who gets called in when things have gone horribly, terribly wrong. Mr Wolf is the person who knows how to take care of the worst kind of mistakes - on a deadline and under pressure. In the Vancouver restaurant world, chef Tina Fineza is Mr Wolf. Eater spoke with chef Tina to get the inside story.
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[Photo via Robert Rose]

What is it that you do?
Simply put; I have to make sure that the owner's making money. So say you have a chef that can cook, but their food costs are way out of the window, that's when the owner hires me to see are if they're really not making any money or is there something they can do.

What are the first steps in a restaurant rescue?
I go through every item on the menu, cost it out and see what's going on. Who are their suppliers? Are they using the best in the city? That is a factor: if you have good supplier you can have a good bottom line. Are the ingredients in each and every item sustainable - meaning does this item really need pine nuts at $23 a pound? Where's the meat from and which cuts are you using? Can you use a better cut, say pork cheek instead of pork tenderloin? Can I make it work in the same scenario?

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What solutions do you suggest?
The first question to ask: is this a high-end restaurant? If the answer is no and the chef is thinking that they are and using truffle and pine nuts in everything then there is a disconnect right there. Then look at meat; I love using off-cuts. Off-cuts make you think and make you more money.

Where does this love of off-cuts come from?
I grew up in the third world; turning off the lights, recycling and re-using are all in my blood. Give me the off-cuts no one is buying and to me, that is magic. With meat if you look at longer cooking times and less expensive materials like garlic, onion, pure stock and herbs you don't need to use expensive cuts to find flavour.

So you use suppliers like Two Rivers (the Vancouver chef's Poster Child of hormone-free, ethically and sustainably-raised meats)?
Absolutely. I'm never going to sacrifice my standards; I will never use anything sub-par, but you should always make money and you always need to be sustainable. Once a client signs off on sustainablity, then I say yes. Often I'll work backwards on creating a menu, I'll ask Two Rivers for a quote on everything they have for say, $6 and under. Then I'll create a menu. It's fun! I'll use what I can use so my client can make money.

Are people in the kitchen ever resentful when you get called in?
That's what you'd think; I'm coming to spoil their fun and they will be angry, but I have been so lucky. People get excited about 'out with the old' and starting something new with me. I've never come home and felt bad because people have been resentful. Mostly people feel thankful that someone is here to change something, to make business better. People can see that you're trying to make it a better place.

· Service Excellence [Official Site]