Sunday, August 29, 2010



Last night at dinner l approached the table of some guests (friends of mine as it turned out) to ask them, as is typical for me, how everything was. Fortunately, the food was good and they were happy, but then my friend John pointed to my chalk-striped black chef shorts and said, laughing, "And do those shorts make the food taste better?"

l was caught a bit by surprise, something that happens to me much more often in places other than my own dining room, but recovered quickly enough to show him the "Chefwear" logo that appears on the right front pocket of these and any other pants made by Chefwear. This is hardly a plug for Chefwear, or Kitchen Collection, or even Birkenstock, for that matter, all of whose products l wear to cook in, but more an expression of wonderment that people are amused that those of us in my industry have our own work clothes.

We laughed about it at John's table and then he pointed to the fork logo on the brand tag of my shirt and we laughed again. l made a joke about how unprofessional it would appear for me to be cooking in my own clothes, or perhaps, board shorts and a raggedy T-shirt, and how that might create somewhat of a mistrust of the seriousness of my mission; we all shared a chuckle and they went back to eating.

A couple of days before that, my girlfriend, upon seeing another pair of striped chef's shorts, had remarked that l looked like l should be refereeing a soccer match. And just a day or two before that l had been in a meeting when the person next to me, seeing the Chefwear logo on my shorts had burst into laughter and then said, "Oh, how cute, Chefwear, did someone make those for you?" l wandered back into my kitchen, after answering John, but the question plagued my mind as to why it would seem so odd and/or humorous to people that we kitchen workers would have clothing specific to our industry.

Forty years ago, when l first got serious about cooking, one was asked one's jacket size and pants size upon taking a new job. This was because restaurants used to supply their cooks with the work clothes of the trade. A linen company would deliver, along with the tablecloths and napkins, racks of cook's clothing, on hangers, and separated by size; checked pants and white starched double breasted jackets. A lot of them even stenciled your name on the sizing label on the outside of the pants pocket. Yes, really.

Was l ever grateful to find that out. Previously l had worked for steak houses that gave you a logo shirt and you wore your own pants. And by the end of the shift your favorite or even less than favorite Levis were coated with a layer of grease, and by the end of two or three days they were no longer your favorite Levis. Now, in my new attire, no matter how greasy l got, at the end of my shift l could drop my dirty clothes into a linen hamper and forget about them. Yes, l still had to slide my greasy smelly body into my own clothes for the remainder of my day, but at least l hadn't worked in them. l wore shorts home a lot and some of the cooks would simply wear the next shift's pants home and back in the next day.

Naturally their were glitches; days when l wore someone else's chef's coat, snatched furtively from a hanger, and days when l wore pants that were either impossible to bend over in, or were cuffed three times at my ankles. But still, the "mud and the blood and the beer" as we used to say, were absorbed by someone else's clothes. And l liked that a lot.

Somewhere along the line, probably as early as the late 70's, but to the public's perception, more like the early to mid-80's, restaurants began to change. People's ideas about restaurants and food began to change as well. And accordingly the people working in restaurants began to change. For one thing, someone who pursued a career in the food industry was no longer consider a pariah, or a certified loser, as had been the case in my early days.

The older men l'd worked with, the ones with military kitchen and country club backgrounds; the ones who'd looked at me in derision at my lack of experience, were now gone; retired, moved along to the next place or dead. The restaurant "lifers", among whom l now considered myself, were disappearing. Dinosaurs, my few remaining cohorts and l called ourselves.

A newer type of cook was emerging. For some reason working in a restaurant became "hip" and leaving one's graduate studies to become a cook/chef was not at all unheard of. And these new cooks didn't take at all to the old style industrial looking cook's clothes. l started seeing a whole lot of my new kitchen mates coming to work in and then working in their jeans.

And much to my dismay, once restaurants saw this, they began, in a cost cutting effort, to stop supplying their cooks with the black and white houndstooth checks of my youth. They couldn't get away with discontinuing the jackets, as the starched white look was too classic, but the pants were fast disappearing. And in their place were the jeans and cords that the cooks would come to work in (it was a good thing more than a few pair of cooks checks had made it home with me).

But something new was happening and l'll have my hand shoved in a hot french fryer if l can remember when it began, but suddenly baggy chef's pants with elastic waistbands began showing up in kitchens. lt seems that a woman named Rochelle Huppin (of course, it had to be a woman) had not liked the old stodgy and starchy uniform she'd been issued at the Culinary lnstitute of America (and damn, they even had cooking Academys now) and had designed and sewn her own pants.

As if overnight, Rochelle's pants (so to speak) were in every kitchen in America that mattered. They were comfortable, they were cool, in more ways that one and they pushed the envelope of design and color. Yes, the came in the same old houndstooth, but NOBODY wore those. They also came in solids, wild and colorful patterns with food themes, and they came in stripes. Every kitchen had two, three, four cooks sporting different and wildly colorful pants.

America had a new industry. Sales of cookware, expensive knives and cookbooks soared. Chefwear spawned a wide array of imitators, some good, some bad, but as near as l can tell, most still in business. Chef's were on TV wearing logo wear. Housewives could suddenly quote Bobby Flay recipes and had monogrammed chef's jackets hanging in their kitchens next to their All Clad pan sets.

So this is in part why Chef Dave is in the jungle wearing striped Chef Wear kitchen shorts. Consider them the Carhardt or Ben Davis of my profession and please remember, best of all, l don't have to cook in my street clothes.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010



On an unpleasant and confusing subject, the news reached us just over a week ago that Ben Vaughn's assailant, the man who bludgeoned him beyond recognition, kicked him repeatedly once he was on the ground and then left him for dead, has been released from custody. lt seems that the Costa Rican judicial system calls for a hearing at the end of a 90 incarceration to re-assess the sentencing of the accused. At this hearing, if there are no objections and if there is someone to assume responsibility for the accused, they can be set free.

One would logically presume, and in this case, desperately hope, that the victim and his attorney would be present to present their case and lodge their protests against the prospective release of the accused. Oddly, and frighteningly, Ben Vaughn and his attorney Randall Vargas, were never informed of the date of the hearing, although the brother of the accused was notified in sufficient time to be able to travel here from the US where he lives, and vouchsafe for his soon to be freed brother.

The ramifications of this nose thumbing at justice are huge and ugly. The first horrifying thought is that the assailant, a man with a long record of violent crime is back on the streets with a grudge. Since his release there has already been a theft at Ben's property. lt is impossible to imagine the fear and apprehension in the minds of Ben and Natalie in the face of this constant threat to their safety.

The second, and while less threatening, but equally horrible aspect of this is the complete collapse of any system in this country that protects the victims of violent crime. Ben Vaughn is a man who has believed staunchly, through his slow recovery from an attack that has changed his life, that justice would be served. He dragged his beaten and traumatized body to hearings and depositions just days after his release from lntensive Care so that the criminal justice system here would have the information it needed to perform its duties. And for Ben, for any of us, to discover through word of mouth, with NO notification of a hearing, that his attacker is back on the streets, is the worst kind of slap in the face.

How is he, how are any of us in Costa Rica to be protected from violent crime, when the legal system has no control over the attacker and no respect for the victims?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


These are my newest articles for the September issue of Dominical Days


I’m going to share a secret with you. You can get chicken here in Costa Rica that has flavor. Yes, you can buy chicken that is not laced with hormones and chemicals, too. You just have to know where to go, and I’m here to tell you.

There are two companies that have a stranglehold on the poultry business in Costa Rica and I’m sure you, like me, have at one time or another found yourself behind one of their trucks touting the freshness of their poor tortured chickens. Those chickens may have, at some time in their miserable lives been fresh, but by the time they reach you, they are all cottony flavorless breast meat and scrawny legs and thighs.

Chickens that are mass produced to meet the demand of a busy market are forcefed and hormone primed so that the can be rushed to you in just over three weeks. This is so unnatural as to be horrifying.

A happy, grainfed chicken should take somewhere between six and eight weeks to reach a size suitable for cooking and also to develop a flavor and firmness brought on by not being penned. This is not nearly fast enough for a busy chicken “production plant” that is more concerned with stocking freezers than producing good-tasting healthy chickens.

Fortunately for those of us who are passionate about serving quality ingredients to our families and friends I have found a source for organically raised free range chickens. I am now pre-ordering and buying beautiful healthy delicious chickens through Ademar and Mauren who are at both the Uvita and San Isidro Ferias, and so can you.

And if you don’t think I’m serious about this, I visited the two of them at their finca so I could personally witness what the chickens ate and how they lived. These birds get the Chef Dave stamp of approval for health and flavor.


I am a leg man. Give me a chicken and I immediately begin to scheme on a way to serve the legs; umm, love that thigh. I used to have a girlfriend who would only eat the white meat of the chicken and it drove me crazy so I devised a cooking method that even she liked.

The best way to cook a chicken leg, to my thinking, is to braise it. Yes, crisp the skin, flip it over, splash in some wine and stock and pop it in the oven for about 45 minutes until it is meltingly tender. I have won over numerous “white meat only” people with this recipe. When served over mashed potatoes, risotto, or a good rice, this is tender and delicious.

Braised Chicken Legs

Preheat oven to 400

4 Full Chicken Legs (thigh and drumstick);

½ Cup Dry White or Red Wine;

1/2 Cup Chicken Stock or broth;

3 Cloves Garlic, chopped;

1 Cup Chopped Tomatoes (or better yet, home roasted tomatoes)

Salt and pepper the chicken legs, dust them with flour and crisp them in a bit of cooking oil, skin side down in a sauté pan you can put in the oven. Take them out when the skin is crisp and pour out the oil. Return the pan to the flame and add the garlic. Pour in the wine and allow to reduce by half. Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Add the tomatoes and the chicken legs, letting them settle into the liquid. Put the pan in the oven and cook for 45 minutes.

Remove the pan from the oven and remove the legs from the pan. Pour the liquid into something that can be easily skimmed and remove the fat from the top. To serve, return the chicken and the sauce to the pan and put them back in the oven for ten minutes.

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.