Chef Pascal Tiphine helped forge Whistler's world-class restaurant scene 

Owner of Le Gros dies quietly at home

click to enlarge PHOTO BY JOHN FRENCH - Original Whistler Pascal Tiphine, who started his 'country-French' restaurant Le Gros, inspired by his Swiss background and the Canadian mountains around him.
  • Photo by John French
  • Original Whistler Pascal Tiphine, who started his 'country-French' restaurant Le Gros, inspired by his Swiss background and the Canadian mountains around him.

Chef Pascal Tiphine, one of Whistler's original restaurateurs, wasn't one for fancy sauces or sparse Parisian cuisine.

Rather, his food was "country-French" — the kind of hearty, wholesome fare right from the land, the kind of food that makes you feel replete.

It was just like the chef himself — down-to-earth, honest, authentic.

Perhaps another insight into the chef comes from the sign for his long-established restaurant Le Gros showing a rotund chef with his tall hat in the colours of the French flag.

It sits up above the highway at Tamarisk, a welcome beacon for many a traveller looking for good food and a warm hearth — a place away from the hustle and bustle of the village, a place for a little slice of the real Whistler.

"He was always welcoming, social, making sure everybody was comfortable and well served," said friend Bob Barnett. "And he liked to have fun."

Tiphine died at home on Friday, Nov. 22. He was 58 years old. He had been diagnosed with liver cancer just two months before his death.

For more than three decades, Tiphine was a key figure in Whistler's restaurant scene, seeing it grow and having a role in taking it from its nascent beginnings through the commercial boom to a world-class food destination.

"There was probably only about 15 of us at the time," said Ron Hozner, of the original Hoz's Pub in Creekside, who travelled from Penticton when he learned about Tiphine's passing.

"We started the first restaurant association in the '80s and as much as we competed with one another, we also knew as a group we had to compete with other resorts and other destinations... we knew that if we didn't cooperate and work together, we weren't going to grow as a community."

Tiphine's name sits alongside others who made a difference in those days — Bob Dawson of the Rimrock Café, Mario Enero of La Rua and Caramba!, Joel Thibault of Chez Joel and Bavaria, to name a few.

"Pascal was the colour and the fabric of the original Whistler," said Hozner, reiterating a friend's comment on Facebook.

"He had the biggest heart of anybody you could ever meet."

Tiphine was born in Central France but moved to Switzerland when he was two years old. There, he apprenticed as a chef in Neuchatel.

He moved to Canada in the '70s.

His best friend, Michel Bertholet, remembers that day in May 1979 when he saw a blue pickup truck draped in the Swiss flag, parked in the day lots.

He had to find out the identity of his fellow countryman.

"There was nothing to do in early May," explained Bertholet. "The pub was not open so we were drinking coffee."

So he waited. An hour later, Tiphine strolled up. And so began a 34-year friendship.

Whistler was a natural fit for the French-born Swiss man. Here, he was close to the land.

"He loved fishing, hunting and mushroom picking," said Bertholet. "And he loved to smoke Cuban cigars."

His true calling, however, was in the kitchen.

Tiphine opened The Sundial restaurant in 1981 and ran it for six years, selling it to Umberto Menghi in 1987. Menghi renamed the space The Trattoria.

With his money Tiphine travelled the world for two years, but Whistler kept calling. He returned and began a new venture with Herb Niemann. It was called Les Deux Gros restaurant.

A few years later, when Niemann left, it was renamed Le Gros.

Tiphine sold his condo to buy the building. He called his good friend Bertoulet to ask if he could rent a room so he could make the deal. He moved in and never left.

"That was 22 years ago," said Bertholet, of that phone call. "We were like brothers."

His voice cracks a little when he thinks that Tiphine had just taken possession of a house in Lillooet on Sept. 15. Eventually he was hoping to sell Le Gros and move north. In the meantime, he was planning to open on Dec. 15 for another winter season.

"It did not matter who you were or where you come from — doctor, lawyer, (god forbid a politician) or liftie," said friend Chris Quinlan, a former Whistler councillor, "I think Pascal believed that we are all equal and should be treated with the same respect. That did, however, translate to ensuring that the same people, no matter friend or foe or their position in life, was equally subject to the same cutting wit as much as courtesies of respect. And each and every one who met him accepted and respected that. That is an honesty that is indeed very rare today."

His friends recall that for their last good byes Tiphine signed off as he always did, quoting a line from an old beer commercial that he thought was hilarious:

"I love you, man."


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