Wednesday, March 24, 2010



Mangos. So many mangos. A fast start to the season and then as the supply dwindles, a longing for, a wistful glance back at all the things that could have, should have been done. When I got back last year, after a year's absence, I found myself wishing that I had bought truckloads of mangos, pureed and frozen them and then had them to work with for the remainder of the year. Instead, by late April I was scouring the markets for the few stragglers who had stubbornly hung on the trees so I could realize my mango menu fantasies.

This year, I've been a bit more pro-active. I just finished processing part of a 20 Kilo delivery of the delicious beauties into frozen puree for ice creams. Umm, ice creams. And the other part I turned into two large batches of an all purpose sauce I've been working on for the better part of a year, "Salsa de la Jungla". Yes, that's right. First it was Chef of the Jungle, now it's Sauce of the Jungle. I've wanted to create a sauce that was uniquely and exclusively Costa Rican in both ingredients and flavor.

What I've been working toward is an intensely flavored, all purpose sauce that is almost like a Costa Rican barbecue sauce, without the tomatoes of course. I have been looking to create a sauce that can be added to other ingredients to "bump up" the flavor, but also functions on its own as something that can be brushed on or ladled onto cooked fish, pork, chicken or even iguana. And I believe, that after many batches and much experimentation (all of it highly edible, of course) I have come up with a recipe for a bulk batch that may or may not find its way into smaller bottles for resale.

The primary component is, of course, mangos, cooked for several hours with citrus; I've been using both mandarinas and whole kumquats (when they're available) and have been including a few rinds for a semi-but-not-too-strong marmalade effect. To balance the tartness of the citrus juice and rind I have been adding a local raw sugar, tapa dulce (canela), the cooked extract from sugar cane. Additionally I have been adding "miel de la cana", or "miel de pulga" (honey of the the flea) as it is known locally, a liquid extract also from cane. I like it for it's syrupy property as well as its haunting organic flavor and aroma, somewhat like a pumpkin or hard squash smells when it caramelizes.

Naturally with all this sweet and citrus flavor competing and combining there has to be something that cuts through the density of the mango and the cloying sweet of the tapa dulce, and this is where the local ginger and habanero chiles come in. I use a fistful of grated ginger and a couple of habaneros, thinly sliced. As the habaneros are never of the same heat level every time, I bite the bullet and take a gentle lick of each one that I add. The little heat rush I suffer is worth the greater suffering of adding too much and making the sauce an "experts only" version. One can always add more chile and heat, but it's impossible to take it out.

All of this goes into a stainless steel pot and cooks slowly for a couple of hours. The cubed mangos begin to break up and the citrus juice bubbles up around the sides, combining with the sugars to make a deep golden syrup. I taste and taste as it cooks, looking for that perfect combination of the sweet, the sour, and the ginger/chile hit. I am also looking for that vague hint of bitterness that the citrus skins will add. I want the sauce to have a voice of its own; one that sits up and barks a bit, but I don't want it to be unapproachable.

After the sauce has cooked, combined and stewed for a few hours, I puree it and let it sit to cool before it gets refrigerated overnight. I taste it again the following day to see if any of the flavors have "won" out in the balancing act and need to be mellowed, or in some cases, strengthened. Now I have a gallon or so of a multi-use sauce. As I said, it is great brushed onto grilled or roasted meats, poultry or fish or added into other sauces to boost their flavor. Lately I have been cutting it with coconut milk, mustard, chicken or fish stock and olive oil for a sauce to go with fish or chicken over rice. I am finding that the possibilities are staggering. The mangos are here and this year I'm trying to make the most of them. It's time to order another 20 Kilos.

Sunday, March 14, 2010


I can't believe how lucky I am.

I know a lot of people say that and then the drift of what they are saying, despite it's good intentions, comes off as maudlin, treacly, or downright sappy. Good luck and good fortune comes to those who make it, but it certainly helps to have some back-up in your corner to give you the support you need. This I know.

I am lucky to work, cook and create in an environment that allows me as much freedom as I could ever possibly want. Yes, I work in one of the most beautiful places in the world and it's true that my kitchen looks out over what is easily in the Top Five of all views from any restaurant kitchen anywhere. It is also true that I search out, and have brought to me, impeccably beautiful produce, grown locally and organically. The fish and poultry I use in my recipes is locally caught and grown and it's pedigree of freshness is unparalleled. These things contribute to my amazing good fortune.

But what makes the entire equation come together is the support and freedom I get, to do what I do. My boss is my biggest fan and one of my best friends and it is so rare that he has ever told me how or what or when to cook. I've never been great with authority, and I'm sure, NO, I know that much of the stress and many of the problems in previous restaurant incarnations were derived from my clashing with the powers that were. Now I wake up in the morning and there is no knot in the pit of my stomach caused by whatever run-ins I may have upon arriving at work. Rather, I wake up and think about the farm fresh food that will arrive that day and how it will combine with the beautiful things already in my refrigerators. This is a gift and I am so grateful for it.

This past Saturday night I had a small group for dinner and wanted to try out a few new things based on some new ingredients and also on a budding idea or two that I had been mulling over in my mind's palate.

As I do every day, I began by making my dessert for the evening. I had made an extremely rich and flavorful batch of caramelized banana ice cream two days before and wanted to use it for dessert last night. I had discovered the key to the ice cream is to roast the bananas with butter and a mix of dark sugars until they get rich and sticky in the oven, puree them, and build the ice cream on top of that flavor.

There are, I presume, still pastry chefs and restaurants who serve a dessert called, 'Death by Chocolate". I wanted to serve "Life With Bananas", so decided on a caramelized banana tart to pair with the ice cream. I made a batch of caramel, poured it in a pyrex pie dish and laid sliced bananas over the top in a nice pattern. The cake base is simple; banana creamed with butter and more dark sugar, eggs, sour cream and flour. This all goes over the caramelized bananas and gets baked, then turned out, a la an upside down cake. It is simple, but rich and quite delicious. Dessert was in the oven and to my mind, done.

I always start my guests out with a small taste of a chilled soup; a pure expression of flavor that will cool and clear their palates, readying them for the bursts of flavor still to come, but wanted to move beyond where I had been. I had been making a carrot-ginger puree, sort of a traditional combination of flavors and was happy but not fully satisfied with it as a starter. My first addition to it was a spoon of a yellow Thai curry paste to the initial sauteeing of the onions, carrots and ginger as the soup was starting. And I wanted a hint more sweetness, so I began pureeing the soup with orange juice after pouring off a bit of the cooking liquid. This I liked. This was a good direction.

But I also wanted a greater depth of flavor and felt the need to do something about the color.
Beets were the perfect flavor and color to augment the base sweetness of the carrot and I keep gallon jars of roasted beets packed in balsamic vinegar in my refrigerator for salads, so this step was easy. I plopped the equivilent of about four beets into my cooking carrot-ginger liquid and pureed all of it together. The color was a brilliant not-quite-blood red; I loved it.

And today, I had forgotten to bring in oranges for the juice and the pureeing process so I searched the kitchen for something that would work in its stead, something exotic. We make a "frescito", a cool fruit drink for our guests at the Lodge each day and today it happened to be made from maracuya, passion fruit. Perfect. As I ladled the cooked carrot-beet mixture into the juicer, I added hefty glasses of the lightly sweetened passionfruit juice to the mix and let the blender fly. What emerged was a beautiful deep ruby color. It was alive with the scent of ginger and what I can only describe as a floral essence. I stuck my finger into the still hot mix and took a taste. Wow. The maracuya was IT. I chilled a pitcher for service and froze the rest in ziplocs for future diners. Great start.

Next step was the salad. I had garden fresh organic lettuces already cleaned, courtesy of the day crew, but wanted to add a few touches to it that would take it out of the realm of "green salad". I've been getting organic cherry tomatoes, small and brightly flavored, from Marjorie and Bolivar at Diamante Organico, down in the San Salvador valley; and they add a great touch. Angelica and I split these and dressed them with sea salt, fresh cracked pepper, a splash of sherry vinegar to bring up the acid and a drizzle of olive oil. We'd let these sit for a few hours before service so that the dressing would "take".

I have been using a lot of palmito, or hearts of palm, lately and had several lengths still in the refrigerator. It grows right here on our property. But I also had some small kohlrabi, the oddball of the tuber/root family, also from Diamante, that I wanted to do something with. The idea hit me that if I cut both the kohlrabi and the palmito into discs, they would be the same size and almost the same color. The palmito wouldn't need cooking, it has a nice fresh crunch on its own, but to achieve the same texture for the kohlrabi, I'd need to blanch it. I liked the idea of the two white discs, side by side in the salad, looking the same, but tasting quite different.

I wanted some bite and a little color, so I sliced the white part of large green onions into thin white discs as well and now had three sets of white circular vegetables. Color; it needed color, so I fine sliced sweet red bell pepper (chile dulce, here) into thin, thin strips and then cut those into thirds, almost splinter like. I tossed all this with sea salt and pepper while contemplating my dressing. I generally do my palmito salad in fresh mandarina juice (like an orange lime) and olive oil, but I felt like the kohlrabi wanted something a bit more substantial and I decided on an herby-citrusy mayonnaise as the dressing.

I chopped Italian parsley coarsely, along with a handful of garlic chives and put them in the Cuisinart along with a whole egg and a yolk to base the mayo on. I added the juice of four mandarinas, a dash of chilero (a habanero-vinegar table sauce we make), S&P, and set the machine to whirling. I like the green color and knew it would make a lovely pale colored dressing. With the machine on, I slowly added a blend of half olive oil and half corn oil to build the sauce, and could feel it thicken in the machine as the sauce crept of the side of the mixing bowl. I added a bit of warm water to keep it from getting too thick, I checked for acid and salt, and added a bit more mandarina and another shake of sea salt. Both the kohlrabi and the palmito were very mild, and the hit of salt and acid would bring up their flavors.

I stopped the machine and scooped out the mayonnaise. I like the pale green color and the balance of flavors were going to work great with the salad. I put a couple of spoons of the dressing into the kohlrabi-palmito mix and worked it in with my hands. I plunged a teaspoon in for a quick taste and loved it. The crunch was there, a bit of sweetness from the red pepper was evident, and the mayo lifted it and brightened it just enough. It would make an excellent third party to the softness of the organic lettuces and the vinegary tartness of the cherry tomatoes. Two courses down and onto the chickens.

I've been buying nice big organic chickens from Mauren and Ademar, a Tico couple who also grow vegetables for me, and they are a great product. I made a trip up to the farm before I began buying them, as I wanted to see what the birds eat, and was quite satisfied to see them snacking on the trimmings from the lettuces and greens, along with their corn. I buy four chickens once a week and break them down into legs for braising and breasts for roasting. Angelica and I treat ourselves to the wings and I freeze the livers for pate.

Tonight I would roast the breasts and as I did my old-school butchering I pondered my sauce and side options. I wanted to use risotto as a starch base, but was pondering the best way to lift it out of its Italian heritage, while not obscuring it's creamy goodness. I knew that I was going in a mango/citrus/ginger flavor with the chicken sauce so I wanted the flavor beneath it to compliment and augment it nicely. Ideas, I had ideas. I finished the chickens wrapped the legs and chose four fat breasts for roasting. I would get nearly two orders out of one breast they were so plump.

I started work on the chicken sauce while still pondering the risotto question. I pureed four mangoes and put them in a stainless sauce pot along with a cup of mandarina juice, a fist full of grated ginger, a splash of the habanero based "chilero" and a cup of tapa dulce, our local cane sugar. I let this simmer while I worked on the risotto. I had decided on a ginger-curry flavor for it, so with the diced onion I always start risotto with, I added a tablespoon of grated ginger, some diced red bell pepper and a small spoon of yellow Thai curry paste. I had put on a pot of a light chicken stock to boil and when it came up to heat, I stirred the risotto into the cooked onion-ginger mix and made sure to coat the grains of rice with the cooking oil. I added a ladle of the boiling stock and stirred well. I added and stirred, added and stirred until the risotto was still slightly crunchy. I threw in a small handful of diced green onions, removed the rice from the heat and spread it evenly over a sheet pan to cool.

The cooking mango mixture had reached a syrupy point and was quite aromatic. I took it off the heat and pushed it through a fine mesh wire sieve. This would be the flavor base of my sauce and would also make a great glaze for roasted fish or chicken at another meal. This was my "Salsa de la Jungla".

To make the sauce I'd serve with the chicken that night I peeled and diced another two mangos (can you tell it's mango season?) and put them in the blender along with another cup of mandarina juice. I blended these together and added a stiff spoonful of the my cooked mango mix, a generous pour of canned coconut milk, another splash of "chilero" and a handful of chopped cilantro. I stopped the machine and tasted. Hmm, I liked it. Nice heat, good ginger flavor; sweet and spicy, just what I was looking for. I would mix this into the intensified chicken stock that would come out of the oven with the roasted chicken breasts, to heat it up and finish the sauce. I browned the chicken breasts on the skin side, ladled in the stock and put them in the oven to finish cooking.

Angelica had cleaned the mix of organic braising greens; seven or eight kinds, again from Diamante Oraganico, and had also blanched of several lengths of Chinese long beans. I would steam these with garlic and ginger to complete the flavor profile of the entree plate. I want the flavors of my vegetables to stand out on their own, but also be complimentary flavors to the plate as a whole. The chicken, sauce, risotto and vegetables all should play an equal part in making the plate a success.

Our small group trooped in and the soups went out along with pitchers of the passion fruit frescito. The bowls of soup came back empty almost immediately. I had the chicken breasts in the oven with a bit of stock, to heat them so we began to plate the salads. The lettuces we dressed lightly in a bit of a balsamic emulsion, we piled the cherry tomatoes left and right, and presented the kohlrabi-palmito salad in front, as the centerpiece. The salad looked great, and one taste of the kohlrabi-palmito mix told me it was a winner.

Immediately after serving the salads I set up a slicing station for the chicken breasts. I would slice and present the chicken over the risotto, as the breasts were far too big for one serving.
I heated the gingered risotto in a little chicken stock, took a taste, and placed a mound at the front of the plate. I draped the greens over the back half of it and Angelica put several knotted long beans behind it. I sliced the chicken breast in medallions and placed them half over the risotto and half over the greens. A ladle of the brilliant yellow mango sauce went over the top along with a sprinkling of snipped garlic chives. Stunning and nicely aromatic. I was happy with everything on this plate.

Dinner was a lingering affair; the night was warm, the lights on the ocean sparkling and our guests called me over to ask about the meal and offer compliments. Geinier, my boss, had powered through his and offered his own style of compliment as well. I waited patiently until the plates came back and then plated up a wedge of the dripping caramely banana tart. Over the tart I spooned a dollop of the rich ice cream and out they went. We turned to the kitchen and it was nearly already clean. I put away and wrapped a few dishes, plated food for my staff and smiled that smile. I knew it was a good; no, perhaps a great meal. I am a lucky man and a grateful Chef.

Friday, March 12, 2010


This is my latest submission for the April edition of Dominical Days.


Hallelujah!! It is now possible to buy organic produce and fresh fish in Uvita four days a week and under one roof. GLAGLEMAR has opened in the Uvita Rincon.

While the rest of the civilized world has been able to purchase organic produce for several years, it has taken far too long for it to reach the Zona Sur. We have suffered the indignity of having to buy produce trucked in and looking and tasting the worse because of it. Yes, we have a once a week Feria, but that certainly doesn’t address our daily needs.

At last we can get produce straight from the farm. Finca Los Coriotos to be exact. Ademar Valera and Mauren Jimenez are harvesting their fields and bringing their crops to Uvita Monday-Wednesday and also to the Saturday Feria. No more picking through a selection of vegetables of limited and dubious quality. Carrots are carrots and onions are onions, but when I want a great salad, or fresh green vegetables for my dinner, I shudder to look in the local markets.

And joining Ademar and Mauren under the GLAGLEMAR roof is fish from Pescado Jomar.. Previously, our options have been to either truck down a dirt road and deal with a buying a whole fish or to go to our markets and look at the sad watery filets either formerly frozen or sitting forlornly in a watery bath of melting ice.

Alongside the gorgeous organic produce we can now also buy fresh tuna, pargo, dorado and shrimp straight from the Pacific in one kilo packages. This is the same operation who have been doing a great business on Fridays at the entrance to Ojochal. Now they’re in Uvita.

Please help us all by supporting these courageous folks. You can’t always get what you want, but sometimes, You Get What You Need.


What I really like for dinner on a hot night is a great piece of fish on a fresh green salad; simply cooked and nicely dressed. When it gets as hot as it has been here this summer, this makes an excellent solution to keeping it simple. This is so easy, you can make it at home and never heat up the kitchen.

Cut a couple of nice pieces of pargo or tuna off a filet, season them with salt and pepper and let them rest while you fire up the grill and then prepare a great salad. Cut a tomato into wedges and lightly salt it, slice a red bell pepper into rings, slice a few radishes (I like radishes) as thin as you can, and of course peel and slice a ripe avocado. Put a mix of fresh organic lettuces in your salad bowl. They get washed by the farmers so, don’t worry about dirt or grit. The wetter young organic greens get, the quicker they wilt, so keep them dry. Put everything in the fridge while you make this simple summer dressing.


1 Tsp (5 mL) Dijon Mustard

1 clove chopped garlic

2 Tsp (5 mL) Mandarina juice

2 Tsp (5 mL) Red Wine Vinegar

½ (120 mL) Cup Olive Oil (use a good one)

salt and pepper (to taste)

Whisk the Dijon, garlic, mandarina, vinegar, salt and pepper in a bowl until well combined. While still whisking vigorously, add the olive oil in a slow but steady stream.

Put the fish on the grill and when it is just about ready, toss the lettuces and vegetables with a couple of teaspoons of the dressing.

Plate the salad and place the tomato and avocado on top.

Nestle the grilled fish up next to your salad and sprinkle a bit of dressing on top.

Sit outside on the patio, pour yourself something cold, and enjoy.

Monday, March 8, 2010



I have been fortunate enough to have been able to enjoy dinner at what are considered to be two of the best, if not the best, restaurants in the Uvita-Ojochal area. Both are "jungle elegant", nicely appointed and touched with a European influence. The service at each leans toward formal, and if it doesn't quite accomplish serving the guest well, at least the intention is there. Each of these restaurants enjoys a great reputation, gets plenty of coverage in our local press and promotes themselves colorfully and expansively.

And while the food I had at one was markedly better than at the other, I was struck by something that I've been considering for a while, and attempting to overcome in my own kitchen. On each of my entree plates, the protein product was clearly the "star of the show", but the rest of the cast of characters, the starch and the vegetables, seemed lackluster, added as if they "had" to be there. And in fact, the vegetable accompaniments at each restaurant were exactly the same; a nicely arranged, but lukewarm (and unseasoned) combination of haricot vert, carrot, cauliflower and broccoli.

Additionally, at each of the restaurants, the starch accompaniments were a bland unseasoned white rice, mashed potatoes, or sauteed potatoes. There was no thought given to whether or not these starches represented an appropriate (God forbid they should be challenging or interesting) compliment to the protein product. Our choices of rice or potato were there simply because they "had" to be there. It would be unthinkable to put our an entree plate without rice or potatoes.

I had a Swiss couple in for dinner the other night and at the end of their meal they stopped by the kitchen to thank me and the woman made a comment that I appreciated and took as a form of confirmation. She told me that she enjoyed that my plates were "balanced". I asked her what she meant and she remarked that it was clear to her that each of the items on her plate carried equal importance in the construction of the dish. I had served her fresh shrimp sauteed with a roasted tomato sauce on risotto; a mix of braised organic greens, sauteed Chinese long beans with garlic, and steamed cauliflower florets.

This attention to the full plate is what I am striving for and what I wish I could see more of in other restaurants that I visit. We live in an area rich with a wide variety of fruits and vegetables; too rich to allow us to limit ourselves to "safety cooking". This concept of letting the protein product and its sauce be the "main attraction" is an old school notion and addresses neither an awareness of the way people are eating, or an awareness of the way cuisine is shifting.

I believe it is incumbent upon those of us who have chosen to be Chefs to take responsibility for many aspects of our guest's experience in our dining rooms. Comfort, yes; escape, yes; satisfaction, naturally. But moreover, we have responsibility to help our diners to explore new regions and new sensations. We have a responsibility to the health of our diners, physically and spiritually. Certainly, the guest wants and needs a "comfort zone" experience from time to time and he should know where to go to get it.

At La Cusinga, however, I will continue to buy the best, freshest and sometimes the oddball ingredient from my farmers. I will continue to place an equal value on everything I place on my plates. And I will continue to encourage my guests to open their palates, open their eyes and, most importantly, their minds. Dining out should be a fresh, bright experience, not sadly predictable.

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.