“Food is a crux and is really important to many aspects of life. From the point of view of food, you can study history, anthropology, science, agriculture, politics, gastronomy, and culture. In a nutshell, food is something everything else can pivot around.”
That sure is true for us at This Table, but these are the words of celebrated local chef, teacher, mother, food writer and just generally awesome fellow foodie Heidi Fink. I sat down with her a little while ago at the Caffe Fantastico patio, overlooking the Victoria, BC docks. Her choice of course. Her happy place was a great location for an interview, and afterwards I got to admire the fares of the adjacent local bakery Fol Epi, which always gets the stomach rumbling.
Fink seems to know everything about the Victoria food industry. Starting out as a self-taught chef, her passion and drive played itself out. She attracted mentors, read avidly, and of course, cooked. Her grandma was a chef who owned her own catering company, which exposed a young Fink to the world of professional cooking. Later she would travel to many countries including India, Nepal, and Thailand, sparking a love for foreign food for which she is now known.
She first started professional cooking at a tree-planting camp, giving her a wide breadth of experience cooking homemade food for large groups of people (her grandma would’ve been so proud!). She then moved on to work in restaurants, where she would eventually work her way up to become the head chef at Victoria’s Rebar, which fit her style perfectly. She says this is where she really blossomed professionally.
Around this time Fink started teaching cooking classes at community centres, something she’d always wanted to do. This served really well for her once she started a family, and she successfully turned it into a business. She also began leading culinary walking tours through Victoria’s Chinatown, writing articles for food magazines, and taking occasional catering jobs. Then she scored a part-time job at Camosun College as an instructional assistant for their culinary arts program. This on top of developing her own website, writing a blog, parenting two boys, and meeting me for coffee? I don’t get it either.
How does she do it and stay sane? Fink faced a serious challenge a couple years ago. Two days before a major catering job (a wedding), a weekend workshop, and many other commitments, she got a major concussion that put her on bed-rest and out of work for five months. This is what helped her truly realise that self-care is necessary before all. No matter how much you love doing all-the-things, you always have to look out for yourself. That’s how she maintains such an amazing work-life balance.
Fink says she’s inspired by other “food nerds;” different writers and publications who are just in love with food as she is. People like Jeffrey Steingarten, one of the leading food journalists in the United States, as well as Cook’s Illustrated Magazine and seriouseats.com, who are committed to perfecting food. She said sometimes she’s tempted to just throw in the towel and get a “job-job,” but in the end she loves the variety of what she does and being able to truly pursue the breadth of her passion, constantly learning and growing.
Ok, back to the food. Heidi’s favourite cuisine and specialty is authentic South Indian food, but her favourite thing to cook is anything made fresh from the market. She loves scouting out the best ingredients possible and recommends shopping at Fol Epi, Fry’s, and Bond Bond’s bakeries, Choux Choux for meat, Finest at Sea for seafood, as well as the Victoria Public Market, The Root Cellar, and the Market on Yates. Of course, she doesn’t skip Chinatown during her walking tours either. She also frequents all of Victoria’s great farmers markets and is a member of many bulk-buying food co-ops.
“One of my biggest food philosophies is that food is supposed to be delicious and a joy. I think all types of food can be nutritious and delicious, all types of food can be enjoyable, and that is the main thing about food; it’s supposed to nourish your soul as well as your body.”
Well said Heidi. Check out her website chefheidifink.com, where you can find info on her writing, classes, culinary tours, and more!