Monday, September 14, 2009



A week or so ago, I bought a kilo of some beautiful organic lettuces from Andrew Ogden, the owner and farmer at Finca Carolina. It was a pleasure to open up the bags of the carefully cut leaves and see the colors and textures of the mixed greens. Andrew is a neighbor of mine where I've been housesitting on La Union road this past three months and Finca Carolina is his dream. The Finca sits on the edge of a canyon that overlooks a river, hiking trails and gorgeous waterfalls. Andrew's living structures are scattered along the hillside, but his tented raised beds are at the center of his living area.

Andrew is an American with a degree in Anthropology and Environmental Studies. He is tall, lanky, soft spoken, and yes, also a surfer. His dream is to create a working farm/environmental study facility that will draw students, classes and environmental tour groups to his hillside jungle property. The raised beds and organic vegetables that Andrew grows are just part of his vision. And while for a chef like me, his lettuces, chard, yuca, spinach and other crops are the draw, his real vision is the complete use of his property to promote environmental awareness.

Finca Carolina is currently working with interns and student groups who want to study the micro-climate that exists there. Andrew's agricultural interests are not limited to vegetables and the trails are lined with fruit trees and native plants that yield crops long used by the Ticos. Aditionally Andrew is beginning the process of growing and harvesting vanilla beans; an arduous endeavor.

As a Chef it is my desire as well as my responsibility to buy locally and support local farmers in their efforts to bring a foundation of organic growing to communities where it has not previously existed. And it is pioneers like Andrew who will help to make chefs and local buyers as well, aware of the need for all of us to support local crops and farmers. This is our future and both farmer and chef need to do their parts in building awareness among not just consumers, but those in both of our industries. The success of Andrew and Finca Carolina are a small step, but a vital one.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks Chef Dave. If you would like to learn more about Finca Carolina or educational arm which we call UTSI Uvita Tropical Studies Institute please take a look at Also you can keep up up with life on a tropical organic farm on my blog at

    Pura Vida,
    Andrew Ogden


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.