Ex­ec­u­tive Chef James Pare

Whistler Traveller Magazine - - TRAVELLER I CONTENT - BA! CARAM AY,



was des­tined to be a chef: born and raised in B.C., his culi­nary ca­reer started in Whistler’s restau­rants and kitchens. That early ed­u­ca­tion runs deep in his bones, and so, af­ter a suc­cess­ful stint abroad, in­clud­ing run­ning the kitchen at Lon­don’s iconic Savoy Ho­tel, he de­cided it was time to re­turn to the place where his love of cook­ing be­gan. Now he’s back and in busi­ness, hav­ing taken over the muchloved Caramba! Res­tau­rante, now in its 20th year serv­ing vis­i­tors and lo­cals alike, with his un­cle, Jay Pare.

How did you first get into cook­ing?

I grew up in Chilli­wack, B.C. and I came to Whistler maybe six times a year to visit my un­cle [Jay Pare], and ski and bike. My un­cle was run­ning Il Caminetto di Um­berto at the time, and he was al­ways in the restau­rant. We would have these amaz­ing fam­ily din­ners, and I was al­ways struck by the work of the kitchen. Af­ter I grad­u­ated high school in 2000, I moved to Whistler and started work­ing at the Fair­mont Chateau Whistler. Over eight years I worked my way up from the staff cafe­te­ria to run­ning the ban­quet­ing kitchen. Half that time I was also work­ing at Quat­tro’s – so two full-time jobs – but that’s the learn­ing curve, and kind of what you need to do.

What took you to Lon­don?

I had been work­ing at the Fair­mont Olympic Ho­tel in Seat­tle for about two-and-a-half years. I knew the Savoy Ho­tel [man­aged by the Fair­mont group] was be­ing re­stored, and I just re­ally wanted to get on that open­ing team. I went over for the cook-off and, thank good­ness, they gave me the job.

You ended up as an ex­ec­u­tive chef at one of Lon­don’s most cel­e­brated hotels. What con­vinced you to re­turn to Whistler?

Jay phoned me, and said, “I’ve bought a restau­rant from Mario, and I’d like you to come back.” And that was a pretty big deal. Ob­vi­ously, it brought up quite a bit of emo­tion: It’s where I started, where I’m from, and this is the whole rea­son I got into cook­ing. We’ve al­ways spo­ken about do­ing some­thing to­gether.

Mario Enero [Caramba’s previous owner] hired Jay in the 1980s at Il Caminetto as a busser, and Jay worked his way up, work­ing for Mario for a num­ber of years. Mario started this restau­rant 20 years ago. It just felt fit­ting – we weren’t just open­ing a restau­rant, we were tak­ing over a place that we were con­nected to, that we cared about. I re­al­ized it was per­fect and amaz­ing. So I jumped on board, and we’ve part­nered to do this to­gether. It’s re­ally cool.

Were there no doubts in your mind?

I was ap­pre­hen­sive. I’d be ly­ing to you if I said oth­er­wise. But some­times you have to fol­low your heart. In Lon­don, I had worked my way up to a point where there were a lot of doors open­ing for me. But more im­por­tantly, I re­al­ized: Whistler’s home. Whistler’s al­ways been home; it’s just the best. I couldn’t imag­ine liv­ing any­where else.

What are your plans for Caramba?

We’re giv­ing the place a new look – fresh paint, a dif­fer­ent colour scheme. Just be­cause this is a ca­sual restau­rant doesn’t mean we aren’t do­ing things right. We make ev­ery­thing in house, be­cause sim­ple can be the best. If a fam­ily comes in and all they are look­ing for is a mac and cheese and a pizza, I hope it’s the best pizza and the best mac and cheese. Beau­ti­ful Ital­ian flour, nice cheese sauce, some­thing with flavour … that’s go­ing to mat­ter.

Is there any­thing on the old menu you will be keep­ing?

The cala­mari a la plan­cha: Mario brought that as one of his recipes; it’s his aioli, his cala­mari. I wouldn’t dare touch that be­cause, first of all, it’s amaz­ing. It is su­per sim­ple … some­thing you would get in Spain. It comes from his back­ground, what he be­lieves food is and should be. What Caramba al­ways has been about and will con­tinue to be is sim­ple, flavour­ful food.

And what are you chang­ing?

We’re go­ing even more strongly Span­ish, which is a huge learn­ing curve for me, be­cause I have been so fo­cused on French food and tech­nique. But to look at how the Span­ish do things is re­ally ex­cit­ing. I re­mem­ber be­ing in Barcelona and sit­ting in the mar­ket and eating patatas bravas and think­ing how great it was – and it’s the first thing I put on the menu. We are about com­fort food, and pleas­ing the whole fam­ily. So, yes there is ro­tis­serie chicken and pizza, but there’s also prob­a­bly the best foie gras chicken liver par­fait in the Vil­lage.

What are you hop­ing to achieve over Caramba’s next 20 years?

We want peo­ple to come and say, “We had a great time, fan­tas­tic food; my kids loved it; it was ter­rific value, and I want to go back again.” That’s what we want to build – one guest at a time.

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