Old Hotel Bistro – New Chef
I recently had the pleasure of talking with the “new” Head Chef of the Old Hotel Bistro, Jim Pacini.
Jim strolled down the intricately designed hallway of The Old Hotel Bistro, greeting me with a heart-warming smile, shaking my hand and guiding me back towards the nicely-lit dining area. It’s clean, spacious yet cozy and tastefully decorated. As we settle in I start out by asking him a simple question, “When did you discover you loved cooking?” He laughs a bit and responds “I started cooking as soon as I could reach the stove.” I should have guessed. I ask, “Did you always want to be a chef or did you have something else in mind?” He then explained that his mother encouraged him and his siblings to cook from a young age, so it kind of just came naturally.
Jim’s culinary career began quite early considering that he worked for his first catering company in high school at the age of 15. I then inquired about his culinary education, if he had formal training or if he was self-taught? He said that he had a French culinary arts degree from the Institute of Technology, but in addition to that you could easily tell there was a lot of knowledge he acquired from life experience. I followed the question with yet another, “What is your passion?” I asked him. “What’s important to you?” He chuckled and paused thoughtfully before answering; “What’s important to me is the plate. I’m very driven by what the finished product is going to be.” He then proceeded to explain to me that the most important factors when it comes to cooking are as follows; “the ingredients, the recipe, the methodology and technique.” He said. “It’s not just about throwing the food out there.”
Jim has been teaching at the Institute of Technology Culinary School for almost three years and says that seeing a student develop and expand is the most significant thing to him. His advice for a young person wanting to pursue a career in culinary arts? “Start out small, as a dishwasher while also continuing your [culinary] education at the same time and then just work your way up.” What does “working your way up” do for the individual? “Teaches them to have respect for other kitchen functions besides just cooks.” I then asked, “How would you describe the atmosphere of a kitchen in a few words?” He laughed, (seemingly a bit surprised at the question) but yet still quickly and cleverly answered “Controlled chaos.” Now it was my turn to laugh because that was such a perfect description.
Jim has been Chef for some of the most distinguished and prestigious fine-dining restaurants in the area, including The Vineyard and Erna’s Elderberry House. Now that he’s a part of Old Town a main goal of his is “to encourage and educate diners and make them feel less intimidated by fine dining.” He also put emphasis on the importance of in-house and old school traditions and their importance to quality food. Jim then reminded me that, “It’s okay to take it slow and enjoy the dining experience.” “Sit back and smell the bourbon, you know?”
Jim explained that he grew up here in Clovis, just like many of us. Growing up, he had a lot of family near Old Town; a mere few blocks this way or a couple streets that way. With emphasis he said to me, “I’ve been getting pie from Luna’s since I was six … The place where Jackson’s Jewelers is now is where I used to buy my school shoes.” Then he added, “Sassano’s has been there my whole life. I bought my first pair of cowboy boots there.” So, the proof is in the pudding. Jim Pacini grew up here in Old Town Clovis like many of us, and he genuinely loves and appreciates Old Town.
Considering his extensive culinary background and knowledge I asked a final question; “Do you think you’re still learning and changing?” He enthusiastically nodded and agreed, “If you quit growing and learning you become stagnant and bored.” Between operating his own restaurant, catering and teaching full-time at I.O.T., I found it hard to imagine Jim ever becoming “stagnant and bored”.
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