All hail the Godfather.
Restaurateur Mario Enero will be honoured as the first-ever inductee to the Restaurant Association of Whistler (RAW) Hall of Fame next month. Held in collaboration with the 20th anniversary of Whistler's premier food and wine festival, Cornucopia, the induction ceremony will recognize the former owner-operator of La Rua and Caramba, who has been at forefront of B.C.'s fine dining scene for 35 years.
"Now with Mario having passed the torch along, it was just a really great and easy way for us to start this inaugural hall of fame ceremony," said RAW president Amy Huddle. "He is the perfect candidate for it; he's been in town a number of years, he's still here, he's still active and he still haunts the restaurants that he no longer has and has passed on." (Enero is currently in Spain and could not be reached for this story by press time.)
Like a lot of other young Spanish men growing up in the Franco years, Enero dreamed of becoming a prized bullfighter — but starting out in his father's inn in Madrid as a teenager, the world of hospitality was never far out of reach. The Castilian worked his way though a long list of prestigious kitchens throughout Europe, and then Ontario, before making a trip in 1976 to Vancouver, where he met another fellow Whistler restaurant pioneer: Umberto Menghi.
When the Italian entrepreneur was looking at the newly built Whistler Village for his next venture, Il Caminetto, he pegged Enero to manage it.
"When I was young working at Caminetto, just seeing how passionate Mario was and how tough he was on us, it was because he wanted us to do well," said Jay Pare, who was hired by Enero at 18 to work as a busboy.
In 2014, Pare bought Caramba and has strived to carry on Enero's legacy — with plenty of hands-on help from the man himself.
"When I took over the restaurant, some of the previous staff that were there when (Enero) owned it said he's there now more then when he owned it. It's because he just really wants to make sure he's there if I need anything or if I have any questions — he's there for anybody to help them out, that's just the kind of guy he is," Pare said. "He's the father figure to everybody."
It's this last fact that has earned Enero such a glittering reputation among the latest generation of local restaurateurs; he's always willing to tap his wealth of knowledge to help a fellow business and recognizes that "if everyone does well, Whistler does well," Pare said. "He would give you the shirt off his back."
Huddle said Enero was "the perfect choice" for the inaugural hall of fame induction, which will become an annual tradition as part of Cornucopia.
"What we really wanted to do was honour some members that have been pioneers, trailblazers and innovators for the food and beverage industry in Whistler," she added. "You have to remember what the resort was like 20 years ago; there were a lot of people who took a big chance on a very young resort and set down roots and created businesses."
The restaurant association is currently in talks with the Whistler Museum to house the hall of fame permanently, Huddle said.
Enero will be honoured at a ceremony on Thursday, Nov. 10 prior to Cornucopia's 20th Anniversary Party at The Picnic, which kicks off at 6 p.m. at the Whistler Conference Centre.
"If you know about any event that involves the restaurant association, it tends to be quite informal, fun and boozy — full of libation," Huddle laughed. Tickets are available at www.whistlercornucopia.com.