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New opportunities mean a return to the old ways for one teaching chef

Back in the Big Apple – the city that never sleeps – Chef Lauren Piper rarely slept. For 10 years she had a successful catering business that served New York and Connecticut, and she spent countless hours in the kitchen putting appetizers and meals together for discerning clients.

If you do anything long enough, you tend to have your fill. The hours were long, the job was difficult, and after a while it started to get repetitive. The opportunity for creativity and innovation that attracted her to the chef business in the first place began to wear off.

An avid skier and lover of the mountains, Piper made the move to Whistler three years ago. She wanted to get back into the food industry in some capacity, preferably not in catering.

Last winter she opened up the Whistler Cooking School, modelled after other famous cooking schools in Vail and New York. Anyone can sign up for a course led by a famous, or at least well-known, chef, and take part in preparing a multi-course gourmet meal.

The chef tells stories, opens bottles of wine, and walks the class through the preparation of the meal. Everyone takes part, either making the meal themselves or contributing a course. When everything’s ready, the class sits down to a candlelight dinner and socializes over a meal that they helped to prepare.

Everything was going fine until this spring when an opportunity came about that was too good to pass up –Richard Auer of the Grass Roots Café, which is located in the same building as the cooking school was putting the café up for sale, and taking the summer off to cook at a fishing lodge and play around on his paraglider.

"We (Piper and her husband) heard Grass Roots was for sale and we loved the place and thought that it was a great business that could coexist with this one," says Piper. "We started out by wanting to do more takeout gourmet stuff and having Grass Roots was a good place to do that.

"That’s how it all started. I really didn’t realize that they did as much catering as they do, and since we took over the business two weeks ago, the phone has just been ringing off the hook."

Not that she really minds – "There are times when you miss it, and times when you don’t."

The small kitchen of Grass Roots made it difficult to put together large catering jobs, but now Piper can use the space in the cooking school to put everything together. Conversely, one of the cooking school’s businesses is selling takeout gourmet food to the general public – more people come into Grass Roots on a daily basis looking for food, and the location is far better for attracting foot traffic in the village.

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