Looking out over Whistler Olympic Plaza on a clear, sunny winter day in January it becomes clear that from a business perspective there are few places in the resort with more lucrative pedestrian traffic than the area around the Olympic rings.
This wasn't lost on chef Thomas Piekarski in the months before the Olympic Winter Games of 2010 when Esquires Coffee ceased operations. He couldn't image the prime location adjacent to the Olympic rings being papered over through the 2010 Olympic Winter Games. The prime location was just across the way from where medals were to be presented each night during the Games. Piekarski is a veteran of big events that draw big crowds. He was a key food and beverage player during Expo 86 in Vancouver. The opportunity called out to him.
So, the entrepreneurial chef set in motion a plan to lease the space and create a fun little food outlet with soup as the central menu item.
That was how the Soup Boutique launched, with its offering of more than 12 soups and stews for cold, hungry people looking to create Olympic memories in Whistler Olympic Plaza.
The Games have come and gone. Piekarski has fond memories of the fun times during the Olympic period in Whistler back in the early months of 2010.
Hosting the families of medal winners and serving soup on days when more than 6,000 packed into the plaza worked well. Three years later, the soup boutique is now called the Little Eatery and there's still soup on the menu in the winter but offering more than 12 choices was no longer viable after the massive Olympic crowds subsided.
Piekarski carries on at his high traffic location with a seven-day-a-week operation that offers breakfast, lunch and dinner.
The menu now includes waffles, crepes, sandwiches, salads, paninis, schnitzels, burgers, nightly seafood specials, fondue, seasonal favourites and a full serving of personality.
We'll come back to the personality thing in a moment.
Business across from the Olympic rings has grown, particularly since work at Whistler Olympic Plaza was finished, says Piekarski.
"On a slow day there are 300 pictures taken, at least," says Piekarski of the popularity of the rings just off his patio. "In the summer or over Christmas, I'm not kidding you, there's people lining up in queues without direction, without putting a line-up there and I see lineups of a hundred people patiently waiting. It is the most amazing, uncontrolled, functional people thing I have ever seen in my life. It blows me away."
Whistler hooked the very experienced food and beverage entrepreneur in 1983. While on a visit to the resort during his days working as a personal chef for a Toronto publishing mogul, he reports he stopped in for some lunch at the Sundial Restaurant. It was there that he says his friend Pascal Tiphine came out of the kitchen surprised to see his European friend from years past. The pair worked together in Wengen, Switzerland.
"I stayed there, crashed on his couch," Piekarski recalls of his early days in Whistler after his chance encounter with Tiphine, who now owns Le Gros Restaurant.
Piekarski made Whistler his home as he travelled around the globe working at fairs, large sporting events and international seasonal resorts. The Olympic-style events and international soccer tournaments that draw large crowds are events Piekarski says he likes and is drawn to.
When the Edgewater Lodge was built in 1994 Piekarski was brought in as the first chef. He stayed with the lodge through its first 14 years.
The European-trained chef has been featured in cookbooks and on television. With his open and authentic way along with his big personality, he's a perfect fit for anyone looking for a story, as witnessed by the international attention he received from reporters who came from around the globe to cover the Games of 2010.
For a brief time in the lead up to the Winter Games he was known as the Soup Nazi of Whistler.
"The Germans rolled in and all of a sudden I had to drop the Nazi shtick," says Piekarski. "Here, it is a funny thing if you know Seinfeld. When the Europeans came over I had to drop that whole Nazi stuff because for the Europeans and Germans it's not that funny."
Piekarski reflects on his Olympic experience and all the people he fed with a big smile on his face.
While he seeks out his next big event, he has soup for you and for everyone else across the way from the Olympic rings in Whistler Olympic Plaza.
- 2 oz vegetable stock
- 4 oz white wine
- 1 oz cornstarch
- 1 garlic clove
- cubed bread, vegetables, potatoes
- Poire Williams
- 200 g Shredded Swiss Emmantaler cheese
Dissolve the cornstarch in the white wine.
Bring vegetable stock to a simmer in an iron cast fondue pot. Drop garlic into stock. Add the shredded cheese. Stir with a wooden spoon until melted. Add cornstarch (dissolved in white wine). Stir until smooth consistency and add a splash of Poire Williams.
Enjoy with dipped bread, vegetables, potatoes and anything else you desire.