Husband and wife Renee and Rob McNeil embody a true Whistler love story.
Not only did they meet during the resort's high-water mark, the 2010 Olympics, but they bonded over what's become one of Whistler's favourite treats: the Aussie meat pie.
Living in staff housing that fateful winter season, the couple longed for a taste of home, and the flaky meat pie that is so ubiquitous Down Under seemed like the logical choice to satiate their cravings.
"Like anyone you're kind of stuck up at Base 2, and in the middle of winter we needed an Aussie meat pie in the freezer or something familiar that we could have on-hand when we were stuck up there and didn't want to walk up and down staff hill because the gondola had stopped," Renee said.
But, without the capital to open a storefront or the legislation to start a food truck, the McNeils were left with few options to realize their dream of starting a pie business.
Soon enough, however, their luck changed.
"Rob has a kitchen background, and between the two of us we wondered how we could go about this?" explained Renee. "Then we saw an ad for vendors for the 2011 farmers' market season and I rang Rob up and said, 'This is it, I've got it!'"
By that summer the McNeils had launched The Pie Company at the Whistler Farmers' Market, and they could barely bake fast enough to keep up with the demand. The same is true these days — the general rule of thumb is you have to get to their market stall by 2 p.m. on a typical Sunday if you want to get your mitts on a pie — except now the couple has expanded into wholesale, catering and retail sales in Whistler, Vancouver and Squamish, with no sign of slowing down anytime soon.
"It's been amazing, people just can't get enough," Renee said, revealing that they are currently in talks with a major national distributor to potentially sell their products across Canada. "This year the farmers' market has really been driving our retail sales. We sell out very quickly, so people need to know where to get these pies and we've been driving the business to the other venues in town."
For anyone who attended the Whistler Village Beer Festival last weekend and had the chance to sample their special steak and stout pie made from Deep Cove Brewery suds, or the Whistler Brewing Company honey lager chicken and leek pie, you probably understand why the McNeils have been doing so well for themselves. In addition to those two varieties, which were such a hit at the festival they've decided to add them to their regular menu, The Pie Company offers a traditional Aussie version; cheese and bacon; steak and peppercorn; steak and mushroom; sausage roll; chicken curry and beef and potato, all made painstakingly by hand with a butter and flour crust.
What's been such a shock for Renee is not how well the pies have gone over with Whistler's heavy Aussie contingent — she called the meat pie as beloved Down Under as the hot dog is in America — but with, well, pretty much everyone else, too.
"Initially we started the business with Australians in mind but the big surprise for us has been how well our product's been received by Canadians and Americans," she said. "For people who haven't had one, the curiosity intrigues them and, specifically at the farmers' market, they can smell them and need to have one even though they don't know what it is.
"Usually people will buy one to share because they're not quite sure what it's about and then they'll be back two seconds later saying, 'My wife ate it all, I need another one!'"
You can catch The Pie Company at the Whistler Farmers' Market every Sunday in the Upper Village, and at the Squamish Farmers' Market every Saturday. Their products are also sold at the IGA in Marketplace and Nesters Market locations in Whistler, Squamish and Vancouver.
Luckily for you lazybones out there like me, The Pie Company also does free home deliveries throughout the resort.
Visit www.thepiecompany.ca for more information.
Whistler Brewing Company honey lager chicken and leek pie
Ingredients (for 20 pies)
2.5kg boneless chicken thighs trimmed 2 leeks thinly sliced
2 celery stalks sliced finely
500ml chicken stock
1 330ml bottle Whistler Brewery Bear Paw Honey Lager Beer
1 tbs chopped garlic
3 cups onion finely sliced
1 tbs seasoning salt
1 tbs cracked pepper
1 tbs poultry seasoning 1/2 cup flour
Shortcrust & puff pastry
1. On a baking pan place trimmed chicken thighs, evenly sprinkle pepper, salt & poultry seasoning over chicken, precook in oven at 350
2. Whilst the chicken is cooking, in a deep pot sautée onions and garlic until translucent. Add leek and celery to pot and cook until tender.
3. Pour in Honey Lager and bring to boil. Meanwhile once the chicken has cooked dice into thick chunks
4. Add chicken and 250ml of stock to the pot. With the remaining stock add flour and whisk to form a paste, then add it to the pot and reduce heat to simmer.
5. Add cream to the mix and stir into sauce to thicken
6. Preroll short crust pastry into individual pie tins, add mixture and top with puff pastry. Seal down edges of the top of the pie tin with a fork, brush with beaten egg and cook in oven at 375 until pastry is golden.