Cooking with Pia Wiesen: Pia’s Fish Soup
I had wanted to make a bouillabaisse, but I couldn’t find many of the ingredients, so I had to be inventive.
Pia Wiesen’s cooking philosophy can be summed up in three words: Keep it simple.
So when we asked the former owner of Pia’s On Broadway in Orangeville to suggest a recipe that is both elegant and easy to prepare, she chose this simple fish soup that she says has become her signature dish.
Although it is based on a traditional bouillabaisse, Pia has dispensed with complicated French cookery techniques and exotic, difficult-to-source ingredients.
“When I first made this,” she says, “for my husband’s 40th birthday, we were living in Picton, Ontario. I had wanted to make a bouillabaisse, but I couldn’t find many of the ingredients, so I had to be inventive.”
Pia uses what is available – fish, seasonal veggies, water – to produce a delicious soup that allows the individual ingredients to shine. The recipe calls for salmon, halibut, sole, and scallops or mussels, but Pia urges cooks to substitute whatever looks freshest at their local fish counter.
The indisputable star of the dish is her spicy rouille, which combines the silkiness of homemade mayonnaise with the complex heat of sambal oelek, an Indonesian condiment available in most grocery stores. But, says Pia, any good quality mayo mixed with whatever hot sauce you have on hand will do.
“Don’t fret,” she says. “Use what you have.”
The soup recipe is included in her eponymous cookbook published last fall (Pia: My Three Little Lands), a compendium of classic recipes, from quiche lorraine to tarte tatin, whose overall design embodies the freshness and simplicity its author espouses.
Pia’s friends and family had been urging her to write a cookbook for years, but she was so busy operating her popular Orangeville bakery/café that she could never find the time. Then two years ago she sold the business to her son-in-law Xel Campbell, who was pastry chef at the café, and suddenly she was free.
“My daughter fell in love with the chef,” she laughs. “It was perfect.”
Creating the cookbook has also been a labour of love. And like all love affairs it has been a very intense experience.
“We did 110 recipes in ten days,” she says. “Cooking, styling, photographing.”
In the evenings she would invite friends over to eat the spoils – osso buco, roast lamb, boeuf bourguignon.
“I love to entertain, I love to eat,” says Pia. “And it’s all real, the food in those photos.”
In the meantime, the café has been thriving. Xel and his wife Laura have a young son Kip, and another baby on the way.
“It’s very busy,” says Xel, who has just completed another hectic lunchtime shift. Not simple at all. The café, which Pia opened in 2009, still embraces all things local, seasonal and organic. The bread is made on site. The soups are homemade, many of them based on Pia’s original recipes.
And this fish soup is one of her favourites, perfect for impressing the most discerning guests.
“It’s fabulous,” she says. “You can make the veggies and broth a day ahead. The next day you just heat it up, add the fish, and serve. It’s so easy.”