Clayoquot Wilderness Resort’s Executive Chef Michael Pataran recently relocated across the globe to join the WILD team at the resort’s remote Vancouver Island location. We caught up with Chef during his travels to learn more about his culinary career, his move to B.C and what is inspiring him these days.

Hi Chef!

Let’s start at the beginning. What is your favourite childhood memory of food?

My Grandfather’s herb roasted chicken with potatoes. We would visit him on Sundays in Hamilton (we lived in Toronto) and I vividly remember getting out of the car in the driveway and running up the steps, smelling that exquisite aroma of roasted bird and herbs. I always ran to crack open the oven and peek inside; even now I can smell it. The senses are truly amazing!

What was your first job in the culinary world?

I grew up in the industry. My parents owned bars and nightclubs since I could walk, so I guess you could say I was born into it. The business chose me in many ways.

You’ve traveled extensively and worked in some unique places. Do you have a favourite?

For two different reasons I would say Italy, for the food and for the passion that Italians have for it. Second would be Portugal, which floored me in terms of food, wine, culture and the overall experience.

You are in the midst of moving from the busy metropolis of Phnom Penh, Cambodia to the remote wilderness of British Columbia. What are you most looking forward to about living in B.C?

Fresh pristine mountain and ocean air, a plethora of ingredients and chilly nights by a campfire!

 What can guests look forward to this season at Clayoquot Wilderness Resort?

I have been busy sourcing as many farmers, purveyors and foragers as I can possibly find. I want to showcase as much local product as I can and use that to reflect my culinary style and repertoire based on my travels and experiences.

On that note, it seems that a lot of restaurants and dining establishments these days claim that they are using all locally sourced and organic ingredients when it’s not the truth. Can you share your thoughts on this?

That is so very true. Many establishments have been called out and busted for just that. It’s become trendy to be ‘local’ these days and everyone wants to get on that train. I think in an area such as ours on Vancouver Island, it’s quite easy to source locally; much easier than in the city. Restaurants don’t just sell food, they sell stories, adventures and experiences to every guest. To know the story behind the farmer or the marsh area down the road that your baby carrots came from make those carrots taste that much better. More than ever, people have a desire to know where the food they’re eating came from. I’m glad that we can provide that information to our guests and they can feel good knowing they’re eating sustainably caught seafood and local products.

Can you tell us more about CWR’s new partnership with Ocean Wise?

We just became affiliated with Ocean Wise, which I feel in today’s time, is the responsible thing to do. I think it’s important that a resort rooted in sustainable development follow that oath in every fabric of its being. It’s easy to take the scorched-earth approach to sustainability but we should all doing our part as mass users of these products to ensure there is an industry still remaining ten, twenty or thirty years from now. Ocean Wise is doing some great work to help this cause and by being partners with them in this mission, it makes us feel good about what we are trying to accomplish.

The resort is a member of the Relais & Châteaux collection, one of the most prestigious hotel associations in the world. Sixty years ago, founder Marcel Tilloy recommended that “Hoteliers, restaurateurs must speak from the heart.”  Can you speak to the significance of this affiliation for Clayoquot and its guests?

Working at a Relais & Châteaux property automatically comes with a much greater responsibility, as guests will already have a naturally higher expectation due to the affiliation. For me that means that we are not only being rated and judged as a standalone entity, but as part of a very special group. The Relais & Châteaux affiliation alone conjures up images of impeccable standards and an unmatched quality in both service and style – something all travelers whether on a budget or not, continuously pursue to experience.

For me personally, the most impressive thing about Clayoquot Wilderness Resort is where it currently sits, considering the origins of its humble beginnings. It started out as a passion project and morphed and flourished into a renowned, world class resort in the middle of the remote wilderness; an incredible achievement by anyone’s standards.

I think Clayoquot is one of the valuable and rare jewels in the Relais & Châteaux crown.  I believe it has something very few properties can offer, and that alone makes it an incredibly special place; from not only the heart of its concept and being, but from the heart of the land itself.

You are an Advanced Saké Master and Sommelier. How does that inform your cooking and what can we expect to see on the beverage side of things at the resort this season?

I love wine, I love saké and I love food! You can’t have a perfect experience without two of these coming together; it would be an incomplete event or experience. For me, the menu starts with the wines or the saké in mind. You can change the food, but you can’t change what’s in the bottle. Most people will write a menu and hand it over saying, “OK. Here’s the menu, create a wine list based around that.”  Fair enough. I don’t think, however, this is the right approach. If you get a great bottle of wine, you can then create the food to tailor exactly to the flavour compounds and nuances of that wine.

As for the beverage program at Clayoquot, we have created an incredible martini and cocktail menu for this season, using many locally made spirits from Vancouver Island as well as garnishes and house made syrups, bitters and tonics. We have over twenty spirits made on Vancouver Island and the surrounding area. I think it’s important to showcase the amazing work these artisan distillers produce right in our own backyard. We have put together a fantastic wine, beer, saké and cocktail list with great representation from both local and international producers alike, giving our clientele a multitude of beverage options.

What is your favourite ingredient to cook with currently?

I have always had a fondness for Octopus. It is such an amazing animal and ingredient and we can learn so much from it! It’s become very popular as of late but it’s hard to get the combination of flavour and texture in one dish. You really have to understand it.

Octopus Two Ways by Chef Pataran – 24 Hour Jasmine Double Smoked and Matcha Green Tea Glazed Cucumber Wrapped Terrine. Photo courtesy TEALEAVES

How do you feel the culinary world has changed since you started in the industry?

I didn’t grow up during the internet generation where forty recipes for risotto were just a click away. I think that is missing a little bit with the younger chefs of today –  it’s that learned foundation from trial and error. You had to work to perfect a dish or a technique and the only way to do that was repetition and research. It’s something I try to instill in any novice chef just starting out.

What three books should every aspiring chef read when they start out in this profession?

  1. A Natural History of the Senses by Dianne Ackerman. It will help you understand what the senses truly are and what they mean. It’s a humbling yet necessary read in many ways.
  2. Culinary Artistry by Dronenburg/Page. No book will lay down the building blocks of flavour combinations to transform your mind into a chef’s mind as this one will – it is a must!
  3. The Physiology of Tasteby Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin. This one gives pure and raw philosophical examinations of not just food and eating, but studies the role that food plays in everything from our current state to our dreams and beyond death.

Can you tell us a little bit more about your ‘Faith’ tasting menus? Will those be a part of the programming at CWR?

They will! Essentially, it’s a culinary journey designed for the diner to experience some extremely special ingredients and techniques. As the name will tell you, “Faith” means just that –  it’s all chef’s choice and it is blind. There are no options and choices to be made, you just sit, let go, indulge and enjoy the ride. We will offer it to a limited audience for those that are serious lovers of food and wine. I started and developed these back at my days at Taboo Resort in Muskoka (Northern Ontario) where we had a culinary theater with tasting menus.

Who has influenced your cooking the most?

I think I would say it’s the extreme professionalism and dedication to the art and the craft more than any one person. Of whom I respect the most I would have to say Masaki Hashimoto of Kaiseki-Yuzen Hashimoto in Toronto. For me, his commitment to his craft, his passion and his attention to detail are unmatched. I have eaten there many times in the past, and for me, nowhere ‘takes you away’ more than that experience. That’s why cuisine is amazing, it’s so subjective.

In your opinion, what is the most underrated ingredient?

Snakehead Fish, Fennel, Beets and Bonjiri (chicken tails).

Can you share your best advice for a novice cook?

Stay away from FoodTV, or at least take it with a grain of salt…the truth is out there!

What is the best advice you’ve ever received in the kitchen?

“BEHIND!!!”

Favourite go-to meal when you’re cooking for yourself at home?

I would have to say Phad Thai or Rogan Josh with fresh Naan. I love it when simple ingredients come together to make surreal, layered and complex flavours. Its pure alchemy at its finest!

Since you’re back in Canada, we must ask – who’s your favourite Canadian musician/band?

I would have to say the Tragically Hip or “older” Rush. My wife and I got to know Johnny Fay (The Hip’s drummer) in the Bahamas quite well. We were big fans way before that, so that just added to our loyalty.

You are an award-winning chef, but you are also immersed in the culinary world as an educator, restaurant designer and food writer. How do you do it all?

Some days I don’t know! Seriously, it takes its toll on not just your body, but your mind as well. It’s a rush, rush, rush business that lives on the “bleeding” edge. This is an industry where you can be new and fresh in the planning stages with your concept and be commonplace by the time you open. I think you need a great hobby or something to detract you from all of it, which for me, is the gym.

What is one activity you can’t wait to do this season at the resort?

Salmon fishing!

Thank you for your time today Chef. Wishing you a successful first season at Clayoquot Wilderness Resort!

 Clayoquot Wilderness Resort is a Relais & Châteaux all-inclusive eco-safari luxury resort destination on the edge of the world, in the heart of the wild. Email info@wildretreat.com or call 1.888.333.5405 to book your dream wilderness escape today. 

Images: TEALEAVES