Wednesday, July 21, 2010

WHY WE/I DO WHAT WE DO

WHY WE/I DO WHAT WE DO

A great part of our business at La Cusinga comes from making ourselves available to various tour groups. This is just smart marketing, something my boss and good friend, Geiner Guzman, is very good at. We put ourselves out there in a number of small internet niches and our guest list reflects this. We have been jam-packed busy the whole month of July, normally a slow month, and have hosted bird-watchers, yoga practitioners, GPS classes and more. Additionally, a lot of our guests who are non-group affiliated come here from Europe, primarily Germany, where we are a big presence on Eco-tour websites.

And this is all great; groups come and groups go. We put on our best faces, put out our best food, show them how to get around and relish our position as hosts at what is a very special place in a very special part of the world. We provide directions and bag lunches for hikes, set up tours, cater to dietary needs and administer to insect bites and nasty sunburns. We answer a LOT of questions. Sometimes, however, it is easy for our ultimate "reason for being who and where we are" to be lost on us. I must confess to getting a bit caught up purely in the work aspect to be able to enjoy and/or appreciate the unique-ness of my position.

Thankfully, we are lucky to have a group or two come by who bring us back to the roots of what we represent and who we are. We had such a group last week and another at the end of May. Last week, Franco, a long-time friend and supporter of the Lodge brought in one of his bi-annual yoga groups for a week's stay. And what this usually means to the cynic in me is a lot of special dietary needs and a fair amount of cosmic woo-woo-ness; this has happened frequently in the past. This was not, however, the case with this group.

What we were lucky enough to get was, instead, a group that got us. We got a group that was so ready to love us, and where they were, that when they arrived in the pouring rain they stood right out in it with their arms outstretched to the skies. The lavished and sloshed in its "cleansing feeling". It was easy to see, from minute one, that these folks would be different.
I immediately referred back to my meal roster. The only person with special dietary requirements turned out to be Franco, the leader. And I already knew he was vegan and was ready for him.

This may seem odd, but we do indeed get groups of people who will come down for their first dinner with us and not say, "hello" or "hola" and not even make eye contact. It is an open kitchen and we are right there in their faces, but somehow they choose to ignore us. And odder still, we get guests who remain that way for the duration of their stay. There is really nothing that makes one feel more like "the help" that being ignored in such close quarters. Not these guys, though, they came down to eat and to have a good time with grins, laughter and smiles of greeting mixed in with their "Como esta"'s. These people came down dancing to the music I was playing in the kitchen. It was so refreshing.

Dinner that first night was consumed with so much gusto and appreciation that I couldn't help but understand how different this week was going to be. And as the week eased by, there never ceased to be smiles of appreciation and even wonderment on the faces of this group. It seemed as if every one of them stopped at some point to make contact, to express amazement at where they were, or simply to thank us for being there. Soon, it seemed as if I, at least, was seeing La Cusinga through their eyes. The views, the yoga pavilion, the rain, the sunsets, even the food I was cooking all took on renewed value and a renewed quality of "special" for me when seen through the eyes of people seeing it and falling in love with it for the first time.

So, I need to thank Franco and all the great people in his group for helping me, in the middle of a three week run with no days off, to revisit and recapture the magic and the wonder of the place I work. La Cusinga is one of the special places on this Earth, and I have the Greatest Job in the World. Thank you.





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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.