Monday, December 20, 2010

Still Holding, But It's Oh So Close

We are at the tail end of the 3rd week of December and perched right at the edge of having our lives changed drastically. Yes, we have gone from a nearly sleep walking November to doing some decent business in December, but it's not quite yet the inundation we have been waiting for. There have been a number of nights in the double digits that we hope for and an evening of 18 that felt like the hallowed "good old days", but soon we will be doing those numbers and then some every night.

I have been using this time to finish and polish our cookbook, "Cooking at La Cusinga with The Chef of the Jungle" and while it is a mouthful, hopefully that thought will be prophetic. I have included many of the soup, salad and salsa recipes that have gotten us a lot of attention and paid homage to my growers and producers as well. We have engaged a local graphic artist to do our cover and layout work and she has come up with what I think is a brilliant and eye-catching cover. The next step will be the high resolution food photos we need to finish the cover and to place opposite the pages where they are relevant. Following that, the text goes to the person who will put it all in book form and finally, God willing, the printer.

I must admit this has been quite a learning exercise for me. I can order food, build menus and put together what I think is a pretty good meal, but putting together a book by oneself is another thing entirely. I went into this project both green and cold, barely knowing what each next step would be and I'm sure that's kept us from getting the thing to the printers as soon as we would have liked. I have written, re-read and re-written every recipe at least three times and have cooked all the recipes to see if they really work. With the help of Geinier, La Cusinga's GM/owner and the people involved in the final processes, hopefully we will see this book sometime in mid-Spring; fingers crossed.

In the time between, I have been working on getting us set for another busy season at the Lodge. I've been setting up arrangements with some new organic vendors (there are a new goat cheese producer and a new organic vanilla producer to bring on board), and working out new recipes as well as refining old ones. I have finally found a new source for organic cacao so I am back in production of what I think is the best chocolate "style" ice cream I've ever tasted. I've also been trying out a lot more fruit ice creams made from the local goodies. A huge favorite of the whole staff is Maracuya, or passion fruit. This ice cream is rich and both tart and sweet at the same time, just as the fruit is. I'm also mixing pureed mango with canned coconut milk for an interesting mango-coco flavor.

We have huge bookings for January and February and a group of 18 coming in Christmas Eve. With any luck, I'll be able to come up for air from time to time, but we are coming to "our"season and this is the time when Chef Dave does what he does best, "turn 'em and burn 'em" as we used to say in the high stress restaurant business. Here in the jungle it takes on a slightly smaller degree of stress and volume, but the idea is the same; great food, great service and of course, our amazing view. Get on down here and check us out.

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.