Last week we started our tour of Mario Enero's fridge at his "typical Whistler" townhouse, one he's owned for 20 years. For this popular Whistler restaurateur, who grew up in Spain and rode to local fame first as manager at Umberto's Il Caminetto then at the helm of his own restaurants, La Rúa and Caramba, we could have cruised the shelves of any of three fridges in the three homes he keeps — in Blueberry Hill Estates, in Vancouver or the one in Valencia.
But the Whistler fridge it is, because Whistler is home for Super Mario. Besides, with champagne galore and goodies for a four-hour lunch rooted in a tradition going back to the early 1980s when he and other resto types cooked up special lunches for each other, how can you miss with shelves that spawn such stories?
So how much champagne, exactly, does Mario have in his fridge? And what is he going to serve with it for his longtime friends in The Business (the restaurant business at Whistler)?
"I have two, four, six bottles," he says, counting them as we go. "I have a Cristal here, you know. I have an '85 Dom Pérignon. I have a '96 Dom Pérignon. More Cristal. And a pink champagne made by the famous Barons de Rothschild. ("It's beautiful, very special," says Mario. "They don't make too much — only a few hundred cases, so I like to have it.")
Facing the champagne on the top shelf are some ingredients for the special tapas lunch; some of them will also go into a dinner for friends the next day. (Mario has lots of friends over to eat.) Whatever's left — well, he'll just whip up something for himself.
"I cook for my guests and the rest is for me!" he says, and laughs.
There are olives — two kinds, one Moroccan and one Italian that Mario likes to marinade in a bit of crushed garlic and Spanish paprika before serving. Delicious. There's some white asparagus and two cheeses from Spain — one blue, the other Manchego, a sheep's milk cheese from La Mancha.
Next, Mario has some chorizo and a piece of lomo de bellota, a pork loin from Spain that's cured for up to two years. You serve it like prosciutto. The name bellota means "acorns," which are fed to these particular pigs right before slaughter. He's also got a nice dish of fabada asturiana, a rich, traditional bean stew of fava beans, chorizo and pork belly he made the previous day so it can rest and the flavors can mingle. Then there are fresh blueberries, maybe for a little zabaglione for dessert.
On the next shelf we find rapini, kale to mix with quinoa for a salad, some fennel and celery. And in the fridge door we find an assortment of condiments and the usual things we all keep in our fridge doors — butter, a variety of mustards, some milk and drinking water.
One thing, though, is something few of us have — an 85-gram jar of anchovies from La Latta, Spain. Costing a hefty 16 euros, he brought them back especially for a friend who loves them and may be coming for lunch — Antonio Corsi, founder of the popular Quattro restaurants in Vancouver and Whistler.
Mario spends four or five months a year in Europe. Part of it's business — he still works as a consultant, most recently promoting red wine from Spain in Germany and Switzerland — but most of it is for pleasure, visiting cousins and nieces and nephews. The anchovy treat was part of the haul he brought back from a visit with his 42-year-old daughter, Isabel, who lives outside of Stuttgart. They make a point of visiting two or three times a year, often at resorts where they can just hang out and relax.
But Isabel is no stranger to Whistler. When she was growing up and Mario was killing it at Il Caminetto then his own restaurants, she would visit him on summer holidays or school breaks.
"She always wanted to come at Christmas but I always said, no, the only thing we do at Christmas time and the New Year is work, eat, then sleep," he says. "We have time for nothing.
"You know one night, maybe Christmas Eve, we would get together ("we" meaning restaurant owners and managers) and everybody would bring a dish," he says. "We used to feed 12, 14 people. But there's no time to have relatives stay around, because that is all you do."
And that's exactly what Mario's done so well. Yes, his businesses have been total successes (he is the first inductee into the Restaurant Association of Whistler Hall of Fame). But he also has this amazing ability for building deep connections. So, no surprise, when I ask him to name one thing from his storied life that stands out, it's not some epic travel adventure or business moment — it's the friends he's made at Whistler.
"Oh my God," he says. "You know, I remember when I lived in Saskatchewan for two and a half years before I came here. My life totally changed when I went to Saskatoon. I was almost going back to Europe, but I went to Whistler. I thought, oh great, I can work in the winter then travel.
"That was the change of my life. It's the best part. I've been here — what? 35 years, so it's half of my life. In the old days, 500 or 600 people lived here, and the European guys, we clicked. My friends here — we work hard and we play hard. It's amazing.
"My life changed when I came to Whistler."
Glenda Bartosh is an award-winning journalist who always felt at home in a Mario establishment.