I often forget, and how easy that is for me, that there are people out there in this world who do not look upon food as I do, or perhaps even as the readers of this blog do. I tend to think that the greater portion of reading and traveling humanity shares an appetite and fascination for all things culinary, similar to my own. Why would they not be enraptured by the freshness of the food, the purity of its credentials and the wondrousness of the combinations of flavor therein?
There are times at our seasons at La Cusinga where that difference in attitudes and "food visions" are more clear than others. This is one of those times. This is our "high season" and along with guests who come to relax with their spouses and/or families we also entertain a number of groups who are traveling through Costa Rica and make many stops. La Cusinga is but one of those destinations for their birdwatching, flora/fauna studying, yoga retreating visits.
This was quite evident this past weekend. We were host to a group of traveling gardeners from a particular organization and a mid-western US state that shall go unnamed. They were a group of 20 and had arranged to take their morning, mid-day and evening meals with us for three nights. Because we are also open to our general public over the weekends, it was an interesting opportunity to observe the basic differences in people's approaches to the feeding process.
On the evening that most represented this schism of "food values" we had our group of 20 at our large round table (along with a few satellite tables) and at another table we had two couples who are regular customers of mine and big fans of our food. With the addition of a cold soup course for the smaller table, the menus and food served to the two groups was identical. The reactions were not.
Our first course went out; a tossed mix of organic greens in an emulsified citrus-dijon dressing. Served alongside the dressed greens were organic tomato wedges drizzled with a mandarina/olive oil mix, roasted organic beets marinated in balsamic and herbed vinegars, and a mini-salad of cucumber and paper thin slices of organic celery mixed with minced garlic greens and tossed with an herbed white vinegar. All of these sides to the basic greens were seasoned with fresh ground black pepper and sea salt.
Because I watch every plate that comes back from my dining room I was able to see that the plates that came back from my regular guests had been nearly licked clean. The called me over to the table and because they had astutely picked up on the differences in the dressings (four vinaigrettes in all!) wanted to know just how I had dressed each of the components. (And they wrote to my Facebook page the next day to express their appreciation of the combinations and the balance.)
The plates that came back from the large table were perhaps split equally between those that had been cleaned of the salad and the ones that had had the components of the salad segregated into small piles and shoved off to one side or the other. A lot of the beets went untouched, which is not unusual; most of the cucumber-celery salad had not even been tried; and , surprisingly, a lot of the lovely vine-ripe organic tomatoes had not been eaten. Several of the salads appeared untouched. And these people are gardeners!
The entree plate was composed of a puree of camotes (our local white yam) and plantains; a braise of a mix of eight organic greens; a saute of broccoli and green beans with garlic and red peppers; and the entree was freshly caught Dorado (mahimahi) set over the puree and topped with a delicious and brightly colored mango salsa. I love this dish.
Again, when the plates returned to the kitchen, the ones that came back from my local group of four were cleaned. No, wait, there was a broccoli floret uneaten on one of the plates. As I readied the desserts the plates began to come back from the large group, I could see the mountains of uneaten food piled up on them. Untouched puree, whole pieces of fish (!), salsa pushed to the side and a lot of untouched braised greens. Granted, there were a number of plates eaten clean but the amount of uneaten food surprised me.
Our dessert for the evening was a mango-almond tart topped with my own homemade mango ice cream and it was not surprising that nearly every dessert plate came back from both tables with the dessert completely eaten. There were, as there nearly always are, those who don't eat either the cake or the ice cream, but these were few.
What does this tell me? Well first, it tells me that my friends, my regulars, had come to eat and to eat well. They had brought two bottles of wine and they relaxed and enjoyed themselves; they dined. My other guests, the large group? I had compassion for them. They were traveling, living out of suitcases and carry-ons and in a whole new and quite different environment. They were gulping wine, but almost desperately. But above and beyond that, it still strikes me as odd that grown-ups (!?) no matter where they are from, still carry their food prejudices with them to the degree that there are certain things that they just will not try.
And perhaps I live in a bubble. Food is my life and it is unthinkable to me to consider that I would not try something put before me on a plate. I have traveled considerably, and look forward to the opportunity to try things that are unfamiliar; I try everything once. I am not sure that I would be able to travel if I were so concerned about whether or not I was going to like the food.
We have guests who plop down in their chairs, right in front of the glistening blue Pacific and tell me, "I won't eat fish". Please note, that is "won't" not "don't" or "can't". Are we arrogant if we travel and demand that the food be made to suit our own specific likes or are we merely exercising our right to demand that our tourist needs be met? I am not sure of the answers to these questions. I do know that it is strange to me that I would visit a foreign country and be pre-disposed to not want to eat the food. As I said, perhaps I live in a bubble.