"Whistler has changed. Now we want to eat the bird before we hunt it."
- Mario Enero
Skiing, yes. But bullfighting? I mean, c'mon, there can't be lot of Whistlerites who started out life as wannabe bullfighters. Sounds so exotic somehow. Like something out of an Ernie Hemingway novel. Mysterious. Glamorous. Certainly not conventional.
But then there aren't a lot of Whistlerites like La Rúa's Mario Enero. "You've got to remember," explains the celebrated restaurateur in his Latin-inflected brogue, "I'm Spanish. It's like hockey here. You know, everyone grows up in Canada dreaming of becoming a hockey player. Well, in Spain when I was growing up, every young boy dreamed of one day becoming a famous torero."
Alas, the young Castilian was not meant for a professional life of corrida. "I was 12 when I started my training," he says. "It was very exciting. But I had to quit before my father killed me." He tries to suppress a grin. Fails miserably. "I spent more time in the hospital than anywhere else," he finally admits. "I have some memorable scars from those years..."
Lucky for Whistler. For his lack of success in the bullring encouraged Mario to seek other - maybe less dangerous - ways of making a living. "I was born in 1946," he says. "I grew up in the Franco years. And these were tough years for the people of Spain." Another smile. But this one tinged with just a snippet of remembered pain. It's well justified. Born 10 years after Spain's brutal civil war, Enero would have felt the impact of that terrible conflict intimately. "I quickly came to realize," he says, "that pursuing a career in the restaurant business was a very good way to feed an empty stomach."
Besides, his family was already in the business. "We moved to Madrid when I was still a teenager," he recounts. "My father ran a small inn. I worked there after school. Learned the business." He pauses. "The family still owns that inn, you know. It's very old now."
Although he wasn't aware of it at the time, Mario's decision to enter into the hospitality business was about to completely change his life. "The number one industry in Spain during the 1960s was tourism," he explains. "And the maitre d' school I attended in Madrid was very demanding. I had to learn about everything: kitchen, food, wine." He pauses for a breath. "And you know, they had us work from the bottom up."
He must have been a pretty good student. Either that or he was very diligent. For the jobs just kept coming. From Spain's Costa Brava to the Canary Islands, from Switzerland to Italy, Germany and Belgium, the young Enero continued his apprenticeship in some of the finest restaurants on the Continent. "My goal was to learn as much as I could about the different countries and cultures where I worked," he says. "That way, when these people visited Spain, I'd know how to deal with their expectations..."