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Chef's Choice: Greg Venables


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Greg Venables says his father approved of his career decision to become a chef with a practical Lancashire understanding of the world.

"I asked him why and he said 'You'll always be in work because everybody has to eat.' And I thought that was common sense."

Venables, who opened Wigan Pier fish and chip restaurant in Squamish almost 20 years ago, went to culinary college in St. Helens, near his hometown of Billinge in Lancashire. Both are down the road from the real Wigan Pier, which George Orwell used as a title for his 1937 book about tough living conditions in northern England.

"I lived just one mile outside of Wigan and in 1977 the Queen was going all over the world, opening this and that and the British people said, "you never come up North." So she went up to Wigan and reopened the Wigan Pier (which had been closed for years and was rebuilt) and she put it back on the map. For me, it spoke of fish and chips and pies. I wanted to give recognition to the old working-class roots," he says.

"I want to keep that tradition of quality British comfort foods. The home of pies is Wigan, the Aussies try to claim it but it's not."

But first Venables travelled the world as a chef in higher market operations like the Sheraton and Marriott hotel chains, working in Munich, Bermuda, Australia and eventually Canada. He saw Squamish and fell in love with the place. The next question was how to use his culinary skills to set up his own restaurant. What did the region need?

"I could see in England back then that many fish and chip shops were dying out, but they weren't if they were good places," he says. "I came out and saw Squamish and I thought it was an ideal place. I would go down to Vancouver and you would see White Spots and all these family restaurants and they all had fish and chips on the menu. It was all frozen product and it made me realize that if these big companies are having fish and chips, it was a popular item.

"So I thought if it was done correctly, with the right ingredients and not cutting any corners, it would do well, so that's exactly what I did."

Wigan Pier offers three types of fish — red snapper, Pacific halibut and Pacific cod — chips and other stalwarts of the British chippy, mushy peas, gravy, scampi and more.

"If it's done right, it hits all types of people," Venables says.

"We started in 1994 and things have been amazing with the changes in Squamish. You had loggers, BC Rail and you had the (pulp) mill. I knew exactly who was coming through the door on Tuesday at 5 p.m. I knew every single face, and that was '94."

When the economy started to change, the mill closed there were cuts in the logging industry, and many of those workers left the region. The 2010 Olympics brought new people, construction workers, who still liked fish and chips.

"After the Olympics, we've been getting more people from the city," Venables said.