Getting Baked with Olivia Thorpe
Executive Pastry Chef follows the muse, finds a whole new family
December 6, 2017
“My whole life, I’ve wanted to be a baker.”
Olivia Thorpe speaks with calm gratitude in recounting her journey from creative kid to Executive Pastry Chef. “Some of the recipes I use here, I’ve had since I was in grade eight. I used to make my friends giant cookies on their birthdays, and I make that cookie recipe for one of our sit down desserts,” she says while taking a quick break from the fast-paced action of The Food Dudes’ cacophonous kitchen facility. As an indispensible member of a big league hospitality team, Chef Thorpe credits dream job actualization to her instincts and work ethic, with no shortage of appreciation for her close-knit colleagues.
“Food Dudes is my life. I met my life partner here. My best friends all work here…This is my family.”
It’s an oft-cited advantage around Food Dudes HQ, this widely felt connectivity, and an ideal standing Chef Thorpe came by naturally. While studying at George Brown, an internship opportunity delivered her to the now-shuttered Bloke & 4th, where the infectious energy of The Food Dudes’ operation struck an immediate chord. “Basically, I remember that from 10am to 6pm I had made 20 different things. It wasn’t just scooping cookies all day or something. It was like ‘wow’. Listing all the things I did that day made me really impressed with myself,” she recalls with a smile.
7 weeks into her internship, Olivia was hired full time, and six months later she would slide unofficially into the role of Head Pastry Chef. Finding her place in the company’s social orbit during this period was a process, she reflects: “No one paid much attention to me. I’m sort of quiet and I’m not much into the party scene, so I didn’t fit in at first. But as the good music started to play, I started to loosen up.” Enlivened by the variety of great tunes that typically ring throughout the commissary (“Shania on one end, Kendrick on the other, Weezer over here, classical, on and on”), Olivia found her groove as she began to make her mark.
With a new understanding of the energy and attitude required by her surroundings, Olivia bought into the playful confidence that defines The Food Dudes’ staff ethos. The group of hard working, often teasing, frequently dancing and always passionate professionals Olivia now called friends stayed focused together in the trenches, and unwound together after their jobs were done. “It’s a lifestyle, not just a career,” she affirms. “One team, one dream.”
By the time The Food Dudes were set to open Rasa – a meticulous flagship restaurant – Executive Chef Adrian Niman had enough confidence in Olivia to include her in the launch. So ingrained in Rasa’s outset that she even helped paint the walls, her pastry work helped set a high bar for the business over its initial year and a half ascent, before Chef Niman once again had a welcome challenge for the fast-rising baker.
Olivia was promoted to The Food Dudes’ Executive Pastry Chef, a title she has since held as her work and work family continue to flourish. Her impact on the organization at large is huge, beginning of course with dessert: “I would say 90% of the menu is my creations and recipes. The other 10% is things like the brownies that were there since the day I started. Those are on Adrian’s ‘never change’ list. Essentially, those will never change. But everything else is my creations, based on my experience of gathering recipes.”
Chef Thorpe leans on tried and true seasonal inspirations like rhubarbs and berries in the summer or apples and carrots in the winter, while keeping her approach simple: “I’m generally inspired by what I’m in the mood for, and what I like to eat myself,” she explains. With a 4-person Pastry department running 5 days a week, Chef Thorpe preps for every Food Dudes client then works one event at night, wherever she’s needed. The healthy competition that underscores she and her fellow caterers’ attitude means there’s never a dull moment at work. Each task is timed. Everyone wants to be the fastest, without sacrificing quality.
Along with the camaraderie and comfort of a team dynamic, Chef Thorpe has earned some autonomy in rising to her mantle: “If I see something isn’t working, I can adjust it at any point,” she reveals of the ongoing recipe-tweaking process. “I’ll take a new dessert upstairs and around the kitchen (for people to taste), but ultimately it’s me and Adrian who have final say on whether it’s a go.“
“My desserts try to imitate Adrian’s menus in that everything will always have a sauce, crunchy garnish, colour. All of these things so that, when it comes to the execution, it looks and tastes beautiful,” Chef Thorpe summarizes when asked about her pastry philosophy. “And everything that I make, I know it sounds obvious, but I would want to eat it myself.“ Through trust in her own vision and full immersion into a dynamic catering culture that became her second home, Olivia made her dream come true. She’s a genuine inspiration, and we can’t wait to see what she comes up with next.