Video Series: Why Whistler? Jay & James.

James and Jay Pare at Caramba in Whistler.

Video Series: Why Whistler? Jay & James.

Why Whistler? A question that Whistler locals get asked all the time. And, although there are a variety of responses to this question, you can be sure they’ll answer with passion, pride and a fun story.

What is it about these mountains that draw people from all over the country, the world even, and then won’t let some of them go? If they do leave, what brings them back? Is Whistler a good place for entrepreneurs and business owners? What gets under their skin and embeds itself so deep that Whistler becomes part of their soul?

We ask a variety of Whistler locals Why Whistler? In Video 4, we chat with Jay and James Paré, an uncle and nephew team who co-own and manage Caramba and Quattro at Whistler, two of Whistler’s most established and loved restaurants. We talk about the chaotic nature of the food and beverage industry, what it’s like to work with family and taking over a business during a pandemic.

How Did You End up in Whistler?

Jay: I’m originally from Montreal, went to high school in Ottawa and moved to Edmonton with my parents when I was eighteen. I worked at Jasper Park Lodge in the summer and, at that time, the lodge closed in the winter. I’d heard about this place called Whistler and I’d been to Vancouver before and loved it, so I hopped in the car and drove up the highway and found work the next day as a busboy at an Italian restaurant in Whistler Village.

I thought I’d only do that for one season, but it ended up being four years of going back and forth from Jasper to Whistler. Eventually, I had to pick one place and I chose Whistler because I love the west coast and the mountains here. I’ve now been in Whistler for 36 years.

James: I’m originally from Chilliwack, BC. I ended up in Whistler because of my uncle, Jay. When I was six or seven I’d come up and learn to ski, and I was lucky enough to eat at places like Il Caminetto and Trattoria, some of the most iconic Whistler restaurants, because of Jay.

As I got older, I realized there was something about these restaurants, the experience – it’s what I wanted to do. When I graduated in ’99 it was a really easy decision to make my way to Whistler straight away.

I did my apprenticeship in the restaurant that I now own (Quattro) and I have fond memories of the learning curves. You can cook great food anywhere in the world, but for me, cooking in Whistler is comforting. I feel like I know the clientele, I know what people are looking for and it’s exciting to create new things that they can look forward to on their trip up to Whistler.

Why the Food and Beverage Industry?

Jay: It’s always exciting. There’s never a dull moment – you never know what’s around the next half hour. When you’re having a great night with service and food, it’s like a symphony coming together. I’ve been in food and beverage all my life, I just love the restaurant scene; the controlled chaos. The night might be looking crazy to people, but it’s all controlled, fun and never dull. The passion of the business is what drives me.

 

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James: It’s the dynamic of it, the pace, the feeling when a guest has an amazing experience enjoying something you’ve done, your craft. There’s a lot of reward there. It’s never been about how much money or what you can get, it’s more about what you can give – I think that’s the most important part about it.

How Did You End up With Two Restaurants?

Jay: We bought Caramba from the owner, Mario, in 2014. He actually gave me my first job in Whistler, as a busboy, 36 years ago. I worked with him for ten years. I eventually told him about our dream of owning a restaurant and over many discussions, and many coffees, we struck up a deal.

James was working as the Executive Chef for the Savoy Hotel in London at the time, and I called him back because this was always the plan – to own our own place in Whistler. We kept Mario’s legacy going, kept the name and the concept the same, we just reinvented the food, the service and the energy in the room.

 

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I was the general manager at Quattro at Whistler for ten years before we took over in December last year. I know the room, I know the clientele and I could continue on the owner’s, Antonio’s, legacy. Antonio and Mario are family, they still visit the restaurants daily to check up on us, make sure we’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing and they love what we’re doing with their restaurants.

James: Owning two restaurants in Whistler is surreal. Having two amazing teams at both restaurants means that at a turn of a hat we can make a change or jump on things we need to jump on. We can get a lot done at either place and there are hardly any hiccups because they know what needs to be done. The team has worked with us for a number of years and they’re really part of our family, which is great.

What Was It Like Opening a Restaurant During a Pandemic?

James: Opening our second restaurant, Quattro at Whistler, during a pandemic, some might look at that and think that’s the craziest thing you could possibly do, but for us, it was something we’d been pursuing for four or five years. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect because we could have that easier opening, rather than the usual, full-on, international crowds in December.

We had to adapt and yes, we would love more patrons to come into our establishment, but at the same time, it’s allowing us to perfect what we’re doing so that when the flood gates do open we’re ready for it.

 

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It also gave us the opportunity to connect with the local crowd. We’ve had people who know what we do at Caramba come and support us at Quattro, and the feedback’s been good. It’s great to have that local foundation because that’s what Whistler originally was, a small, local ski town that’s now the best ski town in North America.

What’s Gratifying About Working in Food and Beverage?

Jay: Having the guests have the best experience of food and service, just having it perfect so that they’re blown away and leaving the place loving us.

James: At Caramba we have an open kitchen and you get to see people’s reactions first hand. At Quattro, we offer a different experience, it’s more of a slower dinner where you can take your time, but both are really the same in that it’s about great service and food – nothing else trumps that and that’s what we focus on. We hope to grow the businesses and open up some more in the future.

How Integral Is the Restaurant Scene to the Overall Whistler Experience?

Jay: I think the restaurant’s role in Whistler is huge. We have a world-class restaurant scene, with world-class chefs and I think that’s important for our international clientele who come from places like Europe, where there’s also an amazing food scene. I think we elevate the experience here in Whistler.

 

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James: Restaurants are key to the Whistler experience because people come here, whether they’re local or international, to experience all its bounty. Whether that’s skiing during the day or snowshoeing, hiking in the summer or kayaking, or a number of activities, followed by a great late lunch or dinner at some of the most amazing restaurants in Canada, in my opinion.

What’s the Whistler Community Like?

Jay: It’s very supportive. They love to support local and during the pandemic, we’ve done take out and people have come in.

James: I moved back from England in 2014 (James at that time the Executive Chef at the Savoy Hotel in London) and it felt like the community had evolved. It had become more of a community and more aware of what it’s all about here. I think Whistler has done a good job of establishing itself and ensuring that what’s here makes sense for the long term.

Seeing the progression from when I first started skiing here is amazing. From the incredible verticle you can get on Whistler Blackcomb to all the activities you can now do here alongside the food and beverage scene, the community built that, that’s why Whistler’s such a great place to live.

What Is It That You Love About Whistler?

Jay: We’ve got the best playground in our backyard. It’s phenomenal. Summer, fall, winter, spring – it’s an awesome resort all year round and it’s an hour and a half from Vancouver if you want the big city feel now and again.

James: Whistler has always been home for me. I started coming here when I was young and it was always a place I wanted to be. It’s brought me a lot of calm. Every time I drive up the highway and I get to Creekside, I know I’m home. There’s just something about it, it might change a little, but it’s home. Whistler is somewhere I never want to leave; I don’t want to be anywhere else.

What Makes You Proud to Call Whistler Home?

Jay: I love that it has a small town feel, but it can be a big town at certain times of the year.

James: It’s the people, it’s the community, it’s the mountains. There’s nothing like riding your bike by Green Lake and having your lunch at Nick North watching the floatplanes and thinking – I live here, this is just a day off.

What Do You Do in Whistler for Fun?

Jay: In the winter, skiing, one hundred percent. Also playing hockey and skating on the lakes. Summertime, golf is huge and so is biking.

The advantage of having two restaurants that open at night is that you can play during the day. We can go golfing in the summer, up the mountain skiing in the winter and then come to work. James and I get up the mountain quite a bit; I love a bluebird ski day when I can rip on the corduroy.

James: One of the biggest plus points about working in the evening, in a restaurant, is having all day to play. We can do so many different things; you see people out with their kids, on cross-country skis, even on bikes in the snow. You don’t see that variety in a lot of places.

I love to go snowboarding, it’s definitely a passion of mine and I find it relaxing. Jay and I go up the mountains together once or twice a week, we like going up on Christmas Day when it’s quiet, but we’ve always got to be down in time for dinner. I also love to do woodworking at home; I have a little shop and I make a few things and fix things around the house. In the summer, I love to mountain bike. The trails here are endless.

What’s it Like Working With Family?

Jay: It’s a dream come true. James did a small stint at Quattro when I was the general manager. He did an apprenticeship and then worked his way up to being this grand chef in the UK. Having him come back and open Caramba together, just the way we work together, it’s incredible.

I’ve worked with so many chefs over the years and it can be so tough to get along, them seeing your point of view and vice versa. With him and me, I can look at a dish on the line and I don’t even have to say anything, he’ll take it back and fix it. It’s that non-communication, communication. We’re family, so we have to get along, ha ha!

James: I couldn’t really be any luckier than to be in business with Jay. Jay and I have this synergy; we know what each other is thinking. We can anticipate what’s next and every decision is one we make together. We work together really well. It’s funny, we’re uncle and nephew but we act more like brothers I’d say.

We obviously have our moments, but we can reason it out and think about what’s more important for the business. That’s our common goal; to make sure the businesses stay in the right direction and go where they need to go. Excellent service, great food and enough money to keep doing it the next year.

How Has Whistler Changed You?

Jay: Over the 36 years I’ve been here I’ve gone from being a busboy who closed down the nightclubs to raising two children (twins) and running two restaurants, it’s awesome.

What’s It Like Raising a Young Family in Whistler?

Jay: It’s wonderful. We live on a street with a bunch of families. It’s a supportive community, everyone looks out for each other. They’re going to be exposed to skiing, golfing, hockey, biking – I love the idea that they’re going to grow up here. I also hope that they’ll take over our corporation someday, ha ha!

What Are the Challenges of Living in Whistler?

Jay: It’s tough to get settled down here for some people. Getting housing, getting established. It’s a very transient town, you meet some really great people, but some of them don’t stay, that can be hard.

What’s Whistler’s Heart and Soul?

Jay: The passion of everyone who wants to live here to play and have fun, and enjoy the resort.

James: It’s the mountains. Whistler Blackcomb is what this town’s built around. Whoever owns it doesn’t really matter, I think the most important part is that they’re here and they give us the opportunity to get outside, be active and push ourselves every day.

Locals, like Jay and James, are the beating heart of Whistler, which is made up of small business owners, tireless workers and passionate entrepreneurs who all love to revel in the mountains. This is #WhistlerNice.

Follow us on social media to get the next installment of Why Whistler? To meet more Whistler locals take a look at the rest of the video series, we’re adding more as we go!

If this video has you dreaming of a trip to Whistler, enter the Winterscape Contest for a chance to win an incredible Whistler travel package (for the future). It’s essential travel only at the moment, but if you’re local and heading up the ski hill, please take a look at Ski Well, Be Well for best practices for low risk recreation.

Please note that the image used for the header and feature of this post was taken back in 2019 before the COVID-19 outbreak. Whistler’s restaurant scene is upholding high safety protocols, which you can view in the Doors Open Directory.

Ross Reid is our talented videographer on this project. To see more of his work visit his website.

Dee Raffo

Dee Raffo

You can often find Dee exploring all Whistler has to offer with her three-kid tribe in tow. Originally from the UK, Dee enjoys balancing out high-thrills adventures with down-time basking in the beauty of the wonderful place she now calls home.

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