Friday, April 9, 2010

THE OTHER STUFF

This is my article for the May issue of Dominical Days...

THE OTHER STUFF

(Or, Power to the Produce)

It used to be, in the olden days of restaurants, that our main course was composed of a giant hunk of protein, a few pedestrian vegetables, a baked potato in tin foil or a scattering of what was called rice pilaf. And that was what you got. It was all about the protein product and not necessarily about your health or piquing your palate. There was, and in some cases, still is not, a consideration to the Plate as a whole.

In these enlightened times, it gives me great joy to be able to put an equal amount of importance on all the things that go on the plates I serve at my restaurant. A dazzling array of beautiful vegetables and starches are available, not just to me, but to all of us. And I can’t help but want to include them and honor them with every meal I serve.

I feel that as a Chef, it is incumbent on me to make each part of the entrée plate as interesting as the other. The fish I serve, in its sauce; fresh from the ocean, should be balanced and complimented by the two, three or four additions to the plate. The vegetables should be seasoned and cooked with the same care as the fish. The starch accompaniment should be a logical and flavorful foil to the entrée that rests against, upon or next to it.

The idea of vegetable or starch sides should be cast aside. The are not “sides”, they are an integral part of an entire plate. We as Chefs owe it to our guests to place as much importance on every flavor that goes on our plates. The gorgeous organic produce available to us should be thought of and treated with the same level of respect that once was given solely to that giant hunk of protein.

NOT JUST SIDES ANYMORE

When I compose a plate to serve in my restaurant, I try to take into consideration each of the flavors that I will be using and attempt to create a full palate where spicing and textures will be complimentary. I use a lot of local tropical fruits in my cooking and find that ginger, garlic and cilantro are flavors that don’t just stand out, but also act in concert with fruits like mango, pineapple and papaya, to heighten their flavors.

If I’m serving fish I like to use a lot of bright crisp green vegetables because I love their texture alongside the tenderness of the fish with a fruit salsa. Both the crunch of the just cooked bean and the bite of the garlic and ginger act as compliments to the dish. I use this method for cooking the local organic green beans. This method also works nicely with broccoli or bok choy. A cilantro accented green rice (recipe next month) would be great with this.

GINGERED GREEN BEANS

8 oz. (227 grams) fresh green beans, stem end cut off

4 cloves peeled and chopped garlic

1 piece of ginger the size of the first digit of your thumb, peeled and grated

sesame oil

soy sauce

cooking oil (canola)

S&P

Blanch green beans in boiling water for 3-5 minutes (depending on size) and immediately drain and shock in an ice bath.

Heat cooking oil in pan and add garlic, ginger and salt and pepper.Saute until garlic and ginger begin to give off a nice scent and add green beans, still wet from ice bath to the pan.

Toss beans with garlic and ginger and return to heat.Sprinkle a bit of sesame oil and soy over top of beans and heat through.

Remember that the sesame oil is not a cooking oil, but a flavoring oil and should not be added directly to the hot pan.

4 comments:

  1. I can almost smell the garlic, ginger and ses oil! That "hunk o protein" was, unfortunately, what restaurant goers thought they were paying for. No one would pay for veges and of course, management would not pay for the careful preparation of them either. Thank goodness that has changed with the availability of wonderful produce and Chefs' enthusiasm for healthier menus. Love your blog!

    ReplyDelete
  2. pleasure to find such a good artical! please keep update!! ........................................

    ReplyDelete

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
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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.