Monday, February 28, 2011


I was in bustling downtown Uvita early this afternoon, dodging semi's in the Costanera and hailing my neighbors in the Corona parking lot. I was doing some final banking and turning the key to my mail box in at the Uvita Information Center when I ran into a friend who asked me, "What are you going to miss most about being here?"

My initial answer to her was that I would miss my friends, that I would miss the small town-ness of where we live. I went on to say that I would really, really miss the cooking I had been doing at La Cusinga and had been, in fact, missing cooking quite a bit over this last four weeks of idleness. But while I was answering her, I wasn't really sure if I was being all that sincere about my answer and that I knew deep in my heart of hearts that there was another answer; the real answer.

What I will really miss, what I will miss deeply, mournfully and significantly is my morning smoothie. I have become a virtual prisoner to the mix of tropical fruits and yogurt that I place reverently into my blender each and every morning. My whole morning used to revolve around the tea ritual. The steeping of the strong black tea and intensely flavored local honey was a huge focal point of my early day but something happened, something changed.

And what happened was that I was becoming much more greatly attuned to the transcendent quality of the fruits I was peeling each day. I was paying more attention to the subtle bite of the goat's milk yogurt I got from the Mennonites. I was turning my morning ritual toward the cutting of the fruit and the layering of the yogurt. Putting tea bags and honey into a tea pot was child's play compared to this, this construction of something so much greater than the sum of its parts.

Did it happen when the passion fruit came into season and I could pull them off the vines in the back yard? Was it when I discovered Irwins, the world's sexiest and most glorious mango, oozing honey from every drop? Or was it perhaps when I started buying a "hand" of sweet bananas at the busy Feria each week from the lovely Tica girl who smiled shyly at me when her father was looking away?

I don't know, I can't say when it turned; that moment when the making of the smoothie became the apex of my morning ritual. Those who know me, my lovely fiancee, Kathy, particularly, will tell you that I am a creature who adores, no, that's inaccurate, demands a morning ritual. The rising, the opening of the doors and windows, flipping on the computer, the first glass of cold mint/green tea to ease down the ibuprofin and fish oil, those are mechanical, yet ritualistic. The tea kettle is filled with water and the flame is lit, the tea bags and honey go into the teapot; ritual.

Everything that follows is ritual as well. I get on the floor to stretch and meditate, I pour the first cup of tea, I read emails, Facebook, SF Gate and the NY Times. I begin the crossword puzzle but I don't finish it; yes, ritual. But I now realize, that all these are just small steps on the path to the true ritual. I know they are because now I am starting to delay the rising from the chair, to savor the moments, the building up to that series of steps that makes, yes makes, the morning.

On the counter are the bananas, the sweet ripe bananas. They are the foundation, the staple and the body of the smoothie. If everyday were a perfect day, next to them would be four or five gold and red oblong Irwin mangos. The Irwin is majestic, soulful, succulent and downright sexual. To me, it is the mango of my dreams, culinary, erotic and otherwise. I worked for a fine, fine produce company my last two years in San Francisco and never once did I taste either bananas or (particularly) mangos that came remotely close to this amazing fruit.

I choose the two ripest bananas and after squeezing the mangos and then passing each of them in front of my twitching nose, I choose today's participant. I lay these on the cutting board and saunter out the back door toward the maracuya bush; home of passion fruit. If I am lucky, there will be a perfect speciman, gold not green, and with that perfect amount of "give". And yes, there is.

The bananas are peeled, broken into chunks and fed into the blender bottom. The mango ritual is next and I love the way the little Wusthof paring knife slides the skins off the tender fruit. I work my way around the seed, cutting off moist sticky slabs of the golden fruit. The mango joins the banana and greedily I suck the mango peels like artichoke leaves so that none of that heavenly flesh goes to waste. I cut the maracuya in half and admire its perfectly formed seed sac and the tiny seeds inside. It is quite a sensual sight. I don't want the passionfruit's acid to spoil the sweetness so only the seedsac from one side of the fruit goes in. There will be more for tomorrow.

I have pulled the yogurt container from the refrigerator along with a bowl of tiny ice cubes (because that's the kind of ice cube trays I have). The container is shaken and the thick white goat's milk yogurt joins the fruits. The flavor of this yogurt is so goaty and distinct, almost a bit much by itself, but oh, the harmony it creates. A handful of ice cubes go in, both for chill and to cut the richness just a bit. I sigh and turn the blender on to 7. Always to 7 and only to 7.
This is a ritual.

I am beginning to salivate and I rock the whirring blender to make sure all the yogurt slides down into the golden mix. When I can no longer hear the ice cubes I know. I know the moment that this has all been building to is approaching. And better yet, I know that this mix will make exactly two, not one, but two glasses of that which makes it possible for me to leave the house, to go forward with my day, to achieve greatness, to deal with challenge, to be the man I know I can be.

The glass is brought forth and the glass mixer is leaned forward for the pour. The smoothie nearly walks out of the mixer, thick, viscous and oh, so golden. It layers itself into the glass as if it knows that this is its sole purpose in life. I sigh with contentment, cover the mixer and hastily put it in the refrigerator. I take my glass to the counter and standing behind it I take that first gulp. And yes, it is the perfect smoothie. It is rich, it is fruity and it is the stuff of dreams. There is a sense and a purpose in going on. This is what ritual is all about, and yes, this is definitely what I will miss the most.


1 comment:

  1. Great stuff Chef. We also love our smoothies as that is about all my husband could get down in the morning. That has changed but the smoothies are a staple now. Just having that wonderful fruit at your fingertips sounds like "the stuff of dreams". Berries are good too by the way.


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.