CHEF Q & A
Executive Chef James Pare
STORY BY FIONA MORROW IMAGES BY JOERN ROHDE
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.