Editor’s Note: Chef Patrick Callarec was appointed culinary director for the Dusit Thani Guam Resort, Dusit Beach Resort and The Plaza Shopping Center. He has worked in the U.S, Canada, France and Hawaii, and was formerly the executive chef for Ayana Resort and Spa and Rimba Jimbaran Bali by Ayana in Bali, with 19 restaurants and banquet operations. Prior to that, he was the opening executive chef for the Disney Aulani Resort & Spa in Kapolei. Callarec was born and raised in France and holds a diploma in the culinary arts from the Culinary School of Menton in France. He received the Hale Aina award for the French cuisine at his restaurant, Chez Paul in Maui.
Q: Can you tell us about the influence of your French foundation, combined with your extensive experience working in Hawaii?
A: In Hawaii I worked with the Ritz for about seven years and then I opened my own restaurant. I had the restaurant for about 10 years; it was fun. You work 24 hours a day, but here I only work 18. (It might as well be a part-time job.)
Q: How many restaurants do you survey currently for Dusit?
A: Right now, there is only the one open, but the total will eventually be about 19 once we reopen. [Editor’s Note: Tasi Grill, Alfredo’s Steakhouse, Dusit Gourmet and Ocean Front rooms and pool are all open/available.]
Q: What was it like being head chef on those islands?
A: Bali is a good place for food because you have access to a lot of locally sourced ingredients – food that is grown on the island.
Q: Are you using any farm-to-table or locally sourced food in Guam?
A: I am starting to network and find the people who can provide produce grown on Guam. There is not a lot, but we want the ingredients grown on the island if we can get them. We work with the University of Guam and buy produce from them; I also have a local lady who grows lettuce and micro greens.
Q: In addition to the focus on local ingredients, what else do you have planned for Dusit?
A: I’ll be bringing on some new chefs to add to the team. We are going to really put this place on the map. I have a great vision for Dusit Guam.
Q: Tourists come to Guam from all over the globe and they have that level of expectancy of what they experience in the food industry. How do you think Dusit fits into this standard of excellence?
A: It is especially expected in Guam. Looking at the surrounding market — you have Japan and Korea with really luxurious food cultures. To me, Japan has some of the best food in the world. They have more Michelin star restaurants in Japan than they do in France. The quality and the culture around the food is very high. When people are coming to Guam, they are looking for something specific to Guam. You don’t come from Japan to find the best sushi in Guam. I want to showcase Guam’s unique culture and food.
Q: So, you will be trying to supplement locally sourced ingredients?
A: Yes; the vision we have is to really turn into the best restaurant in the evenings. The daytime will be more casual because of the food, but the evening will definitely be more of a high standard. Alfredo has been the best steakhouse on the island, but I don’t plan to go any lower than number one. All of the meat will definitely be imported from the best sources. Local beef unfortunately isn’t an option, there are not enough cows on the island. But between U.S., Japanese and Australian beef I think we are going to have the best product — no question there.
Q: Any plans for the pastry department?
A: We are going to take the entire pastry department to the next level within the coming few months. We are in the process of acquiring a very amazing pastry chef, but I cannot talk about it yet.
Q: Are there dishes you are experimenting with that will showcase CHamoru food and culture?
A: That is something I am learning more about. I have been going to the farmers market, to see what is grown on island. I have been around the island a few times, but many of the restaurants that feature CHamoru fusion are closed right now. It is something I need to experience. My guys are teaching me in the kitchen now — finadene, which I love, Guam has a great food culture.
Q: How has it been reopening restaurants now that the restrictions are easing?
A: We reopened on New Year’s quite successfully. We have been able to focus more on our local guests because of the travel restrictions preventing much tourism. Now I get to form a relationship with my local guests; I go out to the tables and talk to them and ask them what they think of the food. This has been a great opportunity to experiment with different dishes because we have been surprisingly very, very busy on the weekends. I see some guests coming in twice a week.
Q: When you are on vacation and traveling, what do you look for in a dining experience?
A: I travel to Japan quite a bit … and I go to France. My favorite type of food would be Japanese or French. But I love Thai, I love Vietnamese cooking — everything I try to do in my food, I love Italian. In Asia, creating a little bit of the Asian Fusion. Fusion, not Confusion.
That balance is difficult to strike, I think. For me, … the center of your plate is your main focus, and that is why I think it is important to choose the best ingredient that is around. I like a challenge — being on an island.
Q: Do you think you can put Dusit Thani on the map as a Michelin Star restaurant?
A: Oh, no question, I would love to go in that direction. I was thinking about that last week, because there is no Michelin star in Guam. It takes a lot of logistics with the government to be able to qualify, it’s not just the chef of the hotel wanting to do it. But for the government I think it is a good investment. Guam needs a Michelin Start restaurant, and it should be at Dusit.
Q: What are your thoughts on social media and what that does to dining? Do you think the focus on taking pictures of food to post online is a new way of appreciating food?
A: Now everything you do has to be on media, but for me in a way it is good. As a chef, you really focus on every aspect of the dish. Food is changing all the time, but the base standards are very strong and will remain the same. People always eat with their eyes first. Before people eat anything, the first thing they do is stop to take a photo. If you don’t see people grabbing their phone, it means your food is no good. I go in the dining room a lot, and if you see people grabbing their phone it means your food is appealing; otherwise, it’s not.
Q: Is there another way to get feedback from the guests?
A: Yes, and its inspired me to start a program, I’m calling it Chef to Table. I’m going to have all of my chefs going out into the dining room during dinner service to talk to the guests, meet the guests. It’s a valuable challenge because many chefs are very shy, but it makes a big difference and the guests love it.
Q: And then a photo with not just the food, but the chef too?
A: Yes; and I think it also gives the chef a sense of ownership too. Because often they are always hiding in the kitchen, and the servers are the ones building relationships with the guests. I had my own restaurant for 10 years. When I was working it was half of the time in the kitchen and half of the time with guests.
Guests do give feedback openly when you go out to the dining room to see what they think of the food. Of course, they usually don’t talk bad when you come to the table, always “Oh yes chef, so good.” Social media is good though; you definitely get an opinion. Sometimes you might not like it but, it’s okay.
Q: What has Dusit been doing to keeping guests safe during the pandemic?
A: Safety is a top priority. I have been HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point) certified and I plan to have the rest of the staff take the course as well. It is a great program to go through; it ensures you are really on top of your game when it comes to hygiene and sanitation. For the sake of the guests, employees, and the food it is best to have everyone on the same high standard of sanitation.
Q: Do you have any comment about the dining experience as a whole?
A: I don’t think that good food can go without a good service and a good atmosphere. I think everything becomes a combination. You can have the best food in the world, but if you have a jerk coming to your table to serve you then that would completely ruin your experience. The same is true vice versa — if the service is fantastic and your food is just okay, that might come out better sometimes, but I think there is a really strong combination. Atmosphere is a big one — no question. You cannot have just one, and not the other. mbj