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Fork in the Road: Get stuffed with my picks for ‘best of’ foodstuff

A nod to the past and some hope for the future
Selling Rimrock Café in-house to two talented, longtime employees in 2023 was one of the best legacy moves at Whistler ever.

“Foodstuff” is one of the best words ever. I like its hybridized reach, plus it always reminds me that for years Pique food columns—which, although intermittent at times, started with the first issue Nov. 25, 1994—ran under the clever standing header “Get Stuffed.” (For all you non-journos, a standing header is just that, a header that “stands” every issue and flags readers that that article or section appears regularly. It’s usually located above the headline, which summarizes story content.)

Yes, long before “Fork in the Road” and maybe before, or after, “Epicurious” (no one can quite remember), but definitely before the bare-bones “Food and Drink” header, “Get Stuffed” was a winner.

In fact, my first column ran under “Get Stuffed” back in 2002. It was all about coffee. “The cheapest legal excitement money can buy,” touted the headline, which was maybe one of the best I’ve ever written.

From there, things got somewhat less exciting as I went on to describe quirks about coffee, including how longtime local and current parking lot mogul, Jim Watts, is a self-described coffee snob who’s always had a coffee grinder and a French press long before it was cool to do so. And how he opened Whistler’s first B&B along with his old pal, Stewart Muir, who eventually went on to his first paid reporter’s job at the now-defunct Whistler Question before climbing to one of the top editorial spots at the Vancouver Sun.

It, the B&B, was cheap, as in bring-your-own-sleeping-bags cheap, but breakfast was always a big deal, especially the French press coffee.

But I digress—a bit (add winking emoji)—from the “best of” theme, a long-standing tradition this time of year for Pique, and for any other smart publication that has to do a sterling job on a tight budget, producing trusted, readable, locally-generated content. If you ever run a publication, do the same. Readers love it, and you can put it together weeks before the crush of the festive holidays, so at least some staffers can enjoy a well-deserved break from deadlines—for a day or two.

At risk of sounding disloyal to my own self, I’ve always thought “Get Stuffed” should get the “best of” award for a standing food column header in Pique, or anywhere.

Don’t get me wrong. I really like “Fork in the Road”, a header that grew from a collaborative effort and one that totally reflects my style, namely branching out from the idea of “food” in every which way—expected, like that original coffee column in 2001, and unexpected, like this one taking a peek under the skirts of newspapering.

Apparently it’s worked, for both Pique and me, bucking the trend of the early days when there were only three staffers and no one wanted to write about food.

Whether I tie food to art, science, the environment or quirky locals, it’s kept me interested in food-stuffing matters these 21 years—a timeframe, Mr. Barnett points out, that’s longer than his own. (Bob sold Pique to Glacier Media in 2013, after 19 years in The Big Chair.)

He’s also shared a little insider tidbit that just might change my vote in the header department.

Early in the game, Brian Walker pitched Bob on the idea for a food column. He would write it for Pique in exchange for free restaurant meals. Brilliant! And you’d expect no less from the incomparable Mr. Walker, who landed in Whistler 30-plus years ago.

Currently the supervisor of Whistler’s two recycling yards, Brian’s always been a big proponent of the arts and live entertainment, plus he likes seeing front-line workers—like all those service people in all those eateries we love to vote for in the annual “best of” issue—treated right.

In fact, those two values fuelled Brian’s mayoral campaign—again—in 2022, after Jack Crompton won by acclamation in 2018. One of his planks was resurrecting his idea for a University of Whistler to connect qualified workers directly to employers, something he’d previously proposed in Pique.

As noted, it wasn’t the first time he’d been published in Pique. Nor was it the first time the University of Whistler arose. Far as I know, that distinction goes to another character, Brad Cooper, reporter/editor at the Whistler Question back in the ’80s, right before my reporter days and shortly before I owned it. On a whim, Brad printed up “University of Whistler” bumper stickers that people went wild for. Seems they were a sly reference to enrolling in, maybe even graduating from, the hippie-jock/stoner lifestyle school of the day.

As for my vote for best food column header in Pique, and beyond, I’ll have to sleep on it one more night, but I think it might go to Brian’s “Thought for Food.” Yowser. That might be the best ever, flipping the tired old cliché (food for thought) on its tired old head, and telling it like it is… um, was: Bagging free meals in exchange for writing about food.

On that spunky note, I have one more “best of” vote for food in 2023, and that’s for best Whistler restaurant move. It’s one that bodes well for one of the best Whistler restaurants ever, and follows the same game plan Mario Enero had when it came time to sell his “baby”—Caramba!.

This year, longtime employees, Chris McKinney and Steve Maile, who are also legends unto themselves, bought Rimrock Café from the two legendary guys who started it, Bob Dawson and Rolf Gunther. Chris will run the kitchen, like Rolf did, and Steve will manage the place, like Bob.

Kudos to Bob and Rolf, for A), running such an iconic place (and I don’t use the term lightly) for so long, and B), wanting to sell in-house. It bodes well for the business, the new owners, customers of all vintages—and gives us all a slice of hope for the future. Doing good always beats selling out.

I also really like this story because I wanted an in-house deal when it was time for me to sell my old newspaper, the Question, partly because it echoed how Paul and Jane Burrows had sold in-house to me. In my case, it didn’t quite happen, but the above-mentioned Stewart Muir and our then-typesetter, Jan Gavin, gave it the old college try, and the whole process helped bond our friendship tighter.

Here’s to a more positive 2024, with more people choosing goodness over profit.

Glenda Bartosh is an award-winning journalist who always celebrates collaborative, cooperative ventures.