Carlos Macias started out in the hospitality industry while attending high school in a city called Celaya in Guanajuato, Mexico. Now he’s helping to initiate a new dining program at the Wickaninnish Inn in Tofino, British Columbia. He talked to Swallow about what it’s like to travel the world cooking and end up in the earthy paradise that is Tofino.
Where did you get your start in cooking?
I started in the industry cleaning tables in the food court of a mall in Celaya, in Mexico, while I was in high school. It was a fun experience, I learnt some tricks of the trade, about hard work and even got to buy a TV for my room. But I guess my formal beginning was at cooking school, I took a four year program in culinary arts and food management at IGES (it means Culinary Institute of Superior Studies) in Queretaro, Mexico. The special thing about this school is that at the same time that it teaches the universal techniques, it maintains a focus on Mexican cuisine.
Where have you cooked since leaving Mexico?
I have cooked in Ontario, in Jackson’s Point, Temagami, Algonquin Park. I have done short stages in Toronto at Luma, Nota Bene and Ame. I’ve cooked in Mont-Tremblant and Montreal, at La Quintessence, Toqué, Atable, La Raza. I lived and cooked in Edmonton for Corso 32 and White Spot. I have cooked in London, UK working with product development for Chilango. I used to be the head chef for a 3 mast sailing vessel, the Sorlandet, which is actually used by a school, called Class Afloat. We travelled in the North Sea, the Mediterranean, and the Atlantic in Europe and Africa.
How did you end up such a long way from Mexico, at the Wickaninnish Inn in Canada?
I had never been to Tofino before. About two years ago, I was in Canada and wanted to stay here and keep working. I Googled the top hotels and restaurants on the West Coast, because I wanted to keep learning and see that part of the country. The Wick was at the top or close to it in those rankings, so I read what I could find about it and discovered it was a very special hotel. I applied for the Wick’s job postings, got in touch with HR, and kept pushing until they noticed me. It took a long time, but I’m glad it worked out eventually.
What are you doing in the kitchen there?
I started in garde manger, I was in charge of coming up with the amuse bouche. Then, two months ago I was chosen to lead the new Driftwood Cafe project, which is the launch of an evening menu, “tapas style” with a not so complex, more straightforward, version of the Wick’s food. The chef has encouraged me to inject some of my Mexican influence into the menu. It has been very interesting. Before, the Cafe didn’t offer freshly prepared food in the evenings, only things like sandwiches, but now there is a tiny open kitchen where I get to cook in front of the guests.
What are some of the best things about living in the magical paradise that is Tofino?
Here you are surrounded by mountains, water and clouds, there is one supermarket, one pharmacy, just the essentials. And then you have all this nature around you. You can see the mountains everywhere you are. I get this feeling of taking my time to do things, talking with people I meet at the fish & chips shop, or at the local brewery. Even with all those hours in the kitchen, I can always enjoy the beach, or go on a hike, kayaking, or play soccer. The locals here have cool names like “Crazy Ron” or “Feather George”, it is easy to get to know people.
Are there any drawbacks?
Maybe the time difference between here and where my family and lots of my friends are, they always seem to be busy or sleeping when I’m off, so it is harder to stay in touch. Also, getting Indian food, I miss it bad over here. You have easy access to amenities in regular city life, I think here it is easy to forget about them, cause you get so much more in other things. For example, it sucks that I can’t go to the knife store and buy a whetstone, but every day I ride my bike to work and look at the view of the dock down my street, and it is always different, always beautiful. I can always buy a whetstone online, but that view can only be found here.
How often does the menu change at the Inn?
The tasting menu changes every week, on Saturday. Those days we really need to push it the kitchen. It’s the perfect excuse for chefs to showcase whatever’s been growing in the area. The a la carte menu changes every season, depending on what’s available, what the weather is like. We also have guest chefs from other good restaurants come and cook for special events. I have been here for only four months and I have seen so many things already.
Is foraging a part of life out there?
Yeah! Big time. Here you find edible plants all over the place. Just down the road from my house, I was picking salmonberries this summer. There is this awesome guy who picks a lot of greens for us to use it at the restaurant, he’s brought sorrel, kale flowers, purple dandelion, baby arugula, pea shoots and nettles. Now we are getting tons of chanterelles every week, they came early this year and are everywhere. There are also blackberries along all the streets and bike paths in Tofino, you only have to reach out and touch them. The same with salal berries. Sorrel is back on as well.
What is your advice to chefs who want to travel and see the world, while supporting themselves cooking?
I think is very important to stay true to your passion. Be smart and mature in your decisions, but let love and desire be the ones who lead the way. There is a way to get where you want to be, and see what you want to see, you just need be persistent and get creative to achieve it. Don’t let sacrifices bring you down, remember that it wouldn’t be so much fun if it was easy. You will get negatives along the way, so it’s crucial that you can pick yourself up time and time again. Believe in yourself, push yourself to go forward, you are the biggest motivator of your aspirations.