Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Uvita Feria

Each Saturday morning in our little village of Uvita, there is a feria, a farmers market.  It is put on in a small commercial development just off the main (and only) crossroads in Uvita; a crossroads used to demark many a driving instruction.  The commercial development, sadly, has never succeeded.  While it contains a number of prime location shop spots, they remain empty, the windows papered up.  The only components of the development that seem to get any use are the gym/spa and the covered soccer field  both of which are used seven nights a week.    This little development was seen originally as a community hub, with a bookstore, hairdresser and cafes; but it never seemed to take hold, rents went unpaid and businesses closed or never opened. 

The development was begun four years ago when the real estate boom on the Ballena coast was thriving.  Property was priced at an all time high and the North Americans  who were here to invest their retirement dollars were pumping up the local economy.   Athough Uvita is not a population center, or a cultural center for this part of the coast, it is a financial center.  When the Costa Rican banks put in offices here, they did not put in branch offices without full facilities as they did, for example in Cortes, although it is the county seat.  No, Uvita got the full service banks with officers and armed guards.  This was where the gringo dollar was being invested.

Banco Costa Rica took up residence in fresh development right on the prime corner of the Uvita crossroads.  Next to it sprung up a shiny new mercado, La Corona, an offshoot of the largest grocery in San Isidro; it's shelves brimming with Chilean wines, olive oils and familiar brand names.  The mercado directly across the street that had just moved into another prime location and re-opened with a fanfare quietly folded up its awnings and closed its doors within six months; a victim of La Corona.  A new upstairs restaurant, Dona Maria, opened opposite the Banco Costa Rica and  its parking lot is full in the evenings.

And just a hundred metres away sits the development, which, except for evenings and Saturdays is empty and barren.  But on Saturday the feria opens underneath the canopy roof and is, however briefly,  that needed hub of activity.    The feria is, of course, and necessarily, the victim of seasonal traffic, but it still provides a social need for this community that occasionally has no community.  On Saturday mornings, the Gringos who do support the feria crawl down out of the hills to pick up produce, honey, cheese and meat; but also to do a little catching up and some air-kissing and hand shaking.  The feria provides those functions for those who chose to attend that it should provide and that farmers markets everywhere provide.  Not only is there beautiful produce and handmade goods, but there are people, the community; neighbors, passing acquaintances and friends.

Sadly, the feria suffers, as does my restaurant and the quality eating establishments of others, from a wrong-headed thinking that dogs many food based businesses all over the United States.  There is a perception here that the feria is expensive, over-priced, unworthy of the expenditure.  And this thinking is so backwards and wrong.   Unfortunately it smacks of the carpet-bagger mentality of a few gringos who are here for themselves and themselves only and don't see deeper into how communities such as the one in Uvita need the support of all.  It seems so foolish to me that one would buy the raggedy and well traveled produce across the street at La Corona in order to save a few colones, rather than buying beautiful, sturdy organic produce straight from the earth from our feria and spending a those few colones on better food, higher yields, and most importantly, supporting farmers, friends and community.  

I certainly am not the one to tell my friends and neighbors how to spend their hard-earned dollars and colones.  I can tell them how valuable and necessary to our new lifestyle the Uvita feria is.  I can tell them that investing in the people and the produce that are native to the area where you have taken up residence is vital to all of our continued existences here in this paradise.   And I can tell them that food is love, but it's entirely possible they're not listening.


  1. power to the people dave - glenn

  2. Great observation, positive attitude - I think we need not worry about those other gringos. I like "...Gringos who do support the feria crawl down out of the hills to pick up produce, honey, cheese and meat; but also to do a little catching up and some air-kissing and hand shaking". Air kissing! gotta love it!


Wednesday May 13, 2009 La Cusinga and Me

This words below are from our website describing La Cusinga.  The story, however is much deeper and much richer than these introductory words can describe.  La Cusinga represents a noble and successful effort to preserve this section of unspoiled coast and to keep it alive as a model of what true ecology can accomplish.  The dreams and visions of John Tresemer, the owner of La Cusinga and the Finca Tres Hermanas that surrounds it, have been realized here in what is a true example for all who would preserve and protect what remains of this, or any natural wonder. 

La Cusinga 
La Cusinga Lodge is a coastal rainforest eco lodge dedicated to marine and terrestrial conservation and environmental education. Its location on the southern Pacific coast provides guests with sweeping ocean views and a relaxing beach vacation. In addition La Cusinga is part of a private nature reserve that supplies the visitor with an unparalleled look at Costa Rican wildlife and rainforest. The reserve consists primarily of 250 hectares of virgin rainforest that borders thousands of more acres of privately protected forest. On Costa Rica’s still wild south-western Pacific coast, La Cusinga Lodge borders Ballena Marine National Park which was developed to protect the humpback whales that frequent the coast. La Cusinga Lodge was established in order to share the unique site with Costa Ricans as well as international visitors. Besides getting exposure to rural Costa Rican culture and beautiful vistas, visitors have access to highly prolific areas of primary tropical rainforest and unspoiled coast, all conveniently accessible. 

i returned to La Cusinga this past January, 2009, with a dream in mind.  I wanted to create a cuisine for our guests that would bridge the gap between what La Cusinga offered physically and spiritually, and what they were putting in their bodies when they ate here.  I knew from having previously lived in Costa Rica for over two years that there were organic farmers and that sustainable agriculture was being practiced, but at that time it had been limited in its scope as well as its distribution.  

My first steps upon returning were toward the local Feria to seek out and communicate my ideas with the growers and vendors who could provide me with a local, organic and sustainable product.  The fertile valleys of San Isidro that lie over the coastal mountains and to the Northeast of our Pacific location are rich and productive but are only now exploring the potential that they hold.  

I had in mind a vision that would support local farmers, fishermen and food artisans and one that would recreate (or perhaps, create) a new cuisine of Coastal Costa Rica.  I visit the markets each week to talk with growers and to develop the  relationships that I believe will be mutually beneficial as Costa Rica experiences its rapid growth on an international level
Organic farming is a new and not heavily supported concept in our part of Costa Rica.  It is a brave step for farmers to make, as local communities of both growers and consumers have never placed, or not known to place, an importance on farming organically and sustainably.  I feel a responsibility as a Chef here to be at the forefront of those encouraging and supporting these pioneers  

I came to La Cusinga almost three years ago not knowing what to expect.  My first time through here was characterized by a lack of understanding and appreciation on my part as well as an inability to recognize or connect with the local "flavor" that would make for a coherent package for out guests.  I now feel as if I have made a "connect" with the property and the vision.  I am not completely satisfied and hopefully, never will be, until we are able to produce, right here at La Cusinga, the greater share of the produce we serve.  However, the groundwork has been laid with local farmers and the availability and quality of organic produce is impressive.

Now at La Cusinga I serve a variety of organic lettuces and braising greens.  My salads include wedges or slices of rich red tomatoes as well as sweet !00 and yellow pear cherry tomatoes.  I roast organic beets and marinate them in balsamic vinegar to be served alongside the lettuces and topped with a locally made organic goat cheese.

My soups are made from roasted and steamed local organic vegetables and tiny organic yellow creamer potatoes have found their way onto my plates, nestled against filets of locally caught fish.
I am now using a local organic cocoa powder that still contains the nuggets of cocoa butter unlike the fined cocoa powder in the markets.

And better still, I am able to use palmito (hearts of palm), ginger, cilantro and its sawtooth leafed cousin culantro coyote, mangoes, hot and sweet chiles, mandarina limes and yucca root from our own Finca Tres Hermanas to serve in my dining room at La Cusinga.   The connection from jungle and farm to table is evolving.  May it continue to grow.