Chef's Choice: James Pare of Caramba 

click to enlarge PHOTO SUBMITTED - Homecoming: New Caramba executive Chef James Pare left a glitzy job at the Savoy Hotel in London to run a business with his uncle.
  • Photo submitted
  • Homecoming: New Caramba executive Chef James Pare left a glitzy job at the Savoy Hotel in London to run a business with his uncle.

With a new owner at longtime village restaurant, Caramba, new executive chef James Pare wants diners to know there's one thing on the menu that will never change: the calamari.

"Why would you want to change something that nice?" Pare said of Caramba founder Mario Enero's much beloved take on the Mediterranean classic.

This point gets at the very heart of what Pare is trying to accomplish at the casual Spanish eatery: putting a contemporary spin on European comfort food while still maintaining the vision of one of Whistler's culinary pioneers.

"You can still get your classics, but at the same time, let's have a bit of fun," says Pare. "Like putting potato bravas on the menu; it isn't the most complicated thing, but it is something you'd find at a market in Spain, something that's very delicious, simple and easy and it speaks perfectly to what this restaurant is."

Pare's is a classic restaurant industry story: He fell in love with food as a curious kid who spent much of his free time in the kitchen — at Umberto Menghi's Il Caminetto, to be exact, where his uncle Jay worked. He eventually moved his way up through the ranks, cooking at the Fairmont Chateau and apprenticing at Quattro before taking a gig at Seattle's Fairmont Olympic Hotel.

But it was in 2010 while helping to open another Fairmont hotel before the Olympics, the Pacific Rim in Vancouver, that Pare would get offered the job of a lifetime: banquet chef at the luxurious Savoy Hotel in London, England.

He would shoot his way up to the top of the heap there as well, eventually taking on executive chef duties, with 94 chefs in six kitchens under his employ. It was a dream job at one of the world's most renowned hotels, an admittedly "surreal" experience that never offered a dull moment.

"The Savoy was, for lack of a better word, an absolute beast, but it operated very well," Pare said. "I dealt with all kinds of clientele and guests who had high expectations. They really knew what they wanted, and in London and a lot of places now, there are a lot of offerings out there so the standard was very high, and to maintain that was always a bit of pressure, but it was inspiration as well. You always wanted to do your best."

But the Savoy's professional allure wasn't enough to keep Pare from his real goal: heading his own kitchen with his uncle Jay at the helm.

"We always said we wanted to run a business together," he said. "I just wanted to come back home and prolong Mario's legacy with Caramba, and then Jay having such a great relationship with him — Mario hired Jay at Il Caminetto — it just seemed like it came full circle and was very fitting. I saw it as a sign."

With fewer chefs behind him, Pare said the same approach applies now as when he led a small army of white coats in London, except there's more time to sweat the little stuff.

"When you're running a brigade of 94 chefs, it's continuously ongoing and it never stops. But I think the philosophy stays the same when you have even 15 to 20 chefs," he said. "What's nice about that is now we can really concentrate on the smaller details and the preparation of certain items to speak to what Caramba is: a casual dining experience that's still done really well."

Now, with a few weeks under his belt since Caramba changed hands, Pare is working hard to maintain the sparkling reputation of one of Whistler's favourite eateries. But that doesn't mean he's forgotten about the big picture, and hopes to put his own spin on a local culinary gem.

"The name says it all: Caramba should be something exciting," he said. "Our hope and plan is that we're not only going to continue on that tradition, but continue moving forward. Where will that go at this point in time? Keeping the simplicity is No. 1... but we also want to be as delicious and consistent as possible. We want to make sure when the guest comes in, that they want to come back."

Star anise cured salmon and white asparagus salad

Ingredients

1.5 lbs Fresh Atlantic Salmon (half fillet)

1.5 cups Anise curing mix

Anise Curing mix

Star anis 1 cup

Caraway 2 tbsp

Thyme 1.5 tbsp

Fennel seeds 1.5 tbsp

Bay leaf 1.5 tbsp

Black pepper corns 1.5 tbsp

Sugar 3/4 cup

Sea salt 1 cup

method

Start by Blending all the herbs and spices in a food processer then add your spice mixture to your salt and sugar mixture in a separate bowl and fold ingredients together. Ensure you do not blend the salt and sugar as this will break down the salt and ruin your curing mixture. In a large casserole dish with high sides of around 10cm cover the bottom of this dish with half of your anise curing mixture, then place the cleaned fillet of salmon onto it and cover with the remainder curing mixture. Cover with Clingfilm and place a baking tray on top and some weight to press the fish overnight in your refrigerator. Next rotate your salmon to the other side and press for another night. On the third day rinse under cold water for 20-30 minutes then pat dry. Slice into 1/2 cm slices and reserve in your fridge until assembly.

White asparagus salad

Star anis 1 cup

Caraway 2 tbsp

Thyme 1.5 tbsp

Fennel seeds 1.5 tbsp

Bay leaf 1.5 tbsp

Black pepper corns 1.5 tbsp

Sugar 3/4 cup

Sea salt 1 cup

method

Start by peeling the white asparagus from the bottom of the tip to the end of the stock. Place 3L of water in to a large boiling pot and place over medium heat add sugar and salt to taste and butter. Gently place the white asparagus in the warm water and gently poach until the asparagus is tender — you can check with the tip of your knife, if it slides in and out easily it's ready, if the asparagus breaks then it's over done. Be careful to cool the asparagus down by placing into the fridge in the liquid.

When chilled take the asparagus out of the stock and drain well. Use a tablespoon of the pouching liquid and some olive oil with a squeeze of lemon and season with salt and pepper.

Sweet mustard dressing recipe

Dijon mustard 1/2 cup

English mustard 6 tbsp

White wine vinegar 1/2 cup

Caster Sugar 1 cup

Sunflower oil 1 cup

method

Place the mustard, vinegar, sugar in a bowl and whisk lightly, slowly pour in the oil, whisking at all times.

Final assembly

Pick and take the best leafs of the wild watercress and set aside. Lay your salmon in natural folds around three per plate. Cut the asparagus into quarters and place your asparagus in between the salmon around eight pieces total per plate. Spread a little sweet mustard dressing around the plate with the tip of a small spoon. Repeat this for the next three dishes and garnish with dressed watercress leafs.

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