Whistler's love affair with Mexican fare grows deeper and Edgar Navarro is one of the people behind the romance.
He's the chef at the Mexican Corner. Since taking over the space in Marketplace, the corner has been busy. The plan is to transplant that success in November when the Mexican Corner is moved over to the space formerly occupied by the Chinese Bistro. While the name and menu is making a move the love affair in the Marketplace will continue as Mexican food will continue to be served at the location under a new name with a simplified menu.
The original location is to be redubbed Tacos la Cantina, says Navarro.
"Something easy for the Canadians," he says, a smile coming across his face.
According to Navarro, the old location with the new name will be a simplified eatery with an emphasis on tacos and margaritas while the new location with the old name will be upscale with more dishes.
When Navarro first arrived just five months ago he says he had no idea how popular the Mexican Corner was going to become. He's surprised by the queues that develop as people patiently wait to get into the restaurant at peak times.
"That is the reason we are moving," says Navarro. "Always we are very proud and all the locals, they love their food. We have a very good image, I think, with the local community. We take care of them and for me that is very important."
The Marketplace location will be more of a lunch place, Navarro says. The new Mexican Corner is to feature full table service and extras like salsa prepared tableside. He describes the vision as accessible with great value complete with a bar area.
The question at this point is how does a Mexican chef land in Whistler and start getting the resort hooked on food from the homeland?
In Navarro's case it is simple. He was working at a Club Intrawest kitchen in Mexico. His boss knew a guy in Whistler who was looking for a good Mexican chef. The outcome of the connection was Navarro coming to Whistler in April to run the Mexican Corner kitchen.
Navarro comes to Whistler with previous kitchen experience in New York and Washington, DC.
As he sits on the patio at the Mexican Corner answering questions, authentic Mexican music plays, as the lunch customers start strolling in or checking out the menu posted by the door. He explains that Mexican Corner employs about 20 people. All of them speak Spanish. The new staff members coming for the launch of the new venture are also Spanish speakers.
"They are coming from Mexico so we are waiting for them," says Navarro. "They are in the process of getting visas, all of them."
One of the few people on staff who isn't authentic Mexican stock is the person Navarro put in charge of the fish. That job is in the hands of a Japanese cook because he says Japanese really know about fish.
"We're creating something very special here in Whistler," Navarro says. "With all the ideas that we are bringing, the furniture, the food, the ingredients, everything is going to be matched very, very well."
To really capture that authentic Mexican feel the tables and chairs for the new restaurant are being shipped up in a container along with restaurant decorations and unique ingredients like special sea salt from Mexico.
"We hope that when the people go there they feel the same like us and also appreciate the things we are creating for them," says Navarro. "If that happens I think it is going to be a nice success for us."
Part of what Navarro has in mind in creating a place people will come back to is to continue using fresh ingredients and making food from scratch.
"The food is for making people happy," Navarro says.
He knows that not everyone leaves happy but for those who aren't happy he says he's willing to make adjustments — tweak ingredients and presentation.
Look for Whistler's Mexican fling to continue well into the future, as Navarro and his Spanish speaking team get more involved in the resort. He's dreaming of Mexican cooking classes, continued involvement with the Multicultural Festival and participation in Cornucopia.
As noon nears, Navarro is needed in the kitchen. He switches quickly into chef mode as he slips back into his busy restaurant to spread happiness one quesadilla at a time.
Oaxacan Chile Pasilla Salsa
- 4 Oaxacan pasilla chile, wiped clean, seeds and veins removed
- 10 Tomatillos, medium, husks removed and rinsed
- 1 garlic clove, peeled
- Soak the chiles in hot water for 15 minutes. Drain and set aside.
- In a medium saucepan, cook the tomatillos with enough water to barely cover and cook for 10 minutes. Do not let the tomatillos burst open.
- Place the garlic clove with one teaspoon salt in a molcajete (like a mortar and pestle) and grind to a paste with a volcanic pestle, called a tejolote.
- Add the chiles, one by one, and grind until smooth.
- Add the tomatillos, one by one, and grind until the tomatillos are smoothly incorporated into the salsa.
- Season with salt to taste and marinate at room temperature until ready to serve.
The salsa will keep for one week, refrigerated.