Wednesday, June 10, 2009

La Union


 A brief break in the restaurant and area reporting this week to take the time to move into my temporary new home.  I am house  sitting for my friends, Greg and Laura, while they make a three month visit to friends and family in Ashville and Buffalo.  This in no way affects my Chef duties at La Cusinga, but rather, puts me into a change of daily schedules.  I’m only in my third day here, so none of it is really figured out yet, except that the two dogs, Sophie and Vida, get fed in the morning and in the evening.

 Greg moved to Costa Rica eight years ago, bought this property, and has been building on it ever since.  He has built two A-frames; the larger of which is his and Laura’s main house, and the smaller is a guest cabina.  He has also constructed a sophisticated water capture and delivery system with four tanks that supply the houses.  Both houses, although rustic in appearance, have full amenities; solar heating for the shower, full electricity, and in the case of the main house, a TV with working channels and a washing machine.  It is quite comfortable here.

 The main house has a deck with couches and hammocks that wraps around the front and looks out over a beautiful lush valley down to the coast of Uvita.  Last night’s sunset was spectacular.  The house sits 4 Kilometeres up a steep windy road that necessitates 4 WD and because of that drive, is peaceful, remote and absolutely private.  The sloping grounds are home to a vegetable garden,  garage and tool shed, solar dryer and a plethora of fruit trees, including pineapple, banana, avocado and mandarina..

 The biggest adjustment for me was leaving R2, my Tercel, back at La Cusinga and having to use Greg’s ancient Toyota Landcruiser to go up and down La Union Road.  The Landcruiser is nearly as old as me and seems to have many more idiosychrosies.  I think Greg was more nervous teaching me to drive it that I was learning about it and the micro-managing made the process more daunting than it really is.   The Landcruiser has a very low first in 4WD and practically hauls itself up the steep gravelly hill to the house.  It is also a bucket of bolt and rattles and shakes frantically with every bump.  Once out on the open road it runs just fine, if one is in no hurry.  The first time I got back into R2 after using the Landcruiser’s clutch I stalled twice.  Talk about night and day.

 Tomorrow is feria day and I already have a reservation for 5 for tomorrow night.  I’ll get up extra early on the mountain, go to La Cusinga to trade cars, and head off over the real mountain to Perez Zeladon and the Thursday feria.  I’ll get used to this car shuffle soon and will get back to the issues at hand.

1 comment:

  1. Three months in an eccentric, efficient house, sounds great, we'll tune in to hear more about it. Lucky to have the old Land Rover, that should prove interesting.


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.