Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Promised Land/Back in the USA

"tell the folks back home this is the Promised Land calling,
and the poor boy's on the line..."

That's what Chuck Berry said, but he wrote that in the early 60's, and as I've been finding out in the seven weeks I've been back, a few things have changed. Not that I was expecting my transition from two years in the jungles of Costa Rica to the United States to be easy or different, I was just not quite prepared for HOW eye-opening it would be.

I had been buying organic produce in Costa Rica, raised by local farmers in local fincas (farms) and had gotten used to the notion that I would be paying a bit more for the quality I would be receiving. What I certainly wasn't prepared for was arriving here and finding out that it was going to put a strain on our budget just to put a fresh green vegetable (and not organic or necessarily local) on our dinner plates each night.

Granted, it has been a long and difficult winter (and granted that this NWestern Oregon valley will turn into an agricultural wonderland sometime soon) and granted the the farmer, the trucker, the broker and the vendor all need to get their nickel (?!) out of the deal. I understand that, but when it costs nearly $1.25 per person just to have fresh sauteed spinach with one's dinner, that is frightening, horrifying. Zucchini was $2.99/# in our market the other day, fresh asparagus trucked "all the way" from California were $4.49/# and artichokes were THREE blinkin' dollars each!! Our default and "go to" vegetable has been broccoli, which is the only vegetable here under $2.00/# and it only gets under that by a penny.

Until I made a wonderful discovery (see below) just this past week, I had nearly given up on the notion of fresh fish, a staple of my eating habits in Costa Rica. We are a mere 90 minutes from the coast and the fish we see here is either water-laden, old and dry, or frozen. On top of that, the prices make a grown man holler; or perhaps weep would be more accurate. I paid $7.99 for "fresh: Canadian rock fish filets (they were on sale) last week and when I opened the package, at least two ounces or water came out of it. And it is just not feasible (even as a treat) to pay $17.99/# for halibut that looks like it went for a long, long ride from the coast before it ever got to us.

I have gotten used to cooking meat again, not that I'd forgotten how, but I needed to re-adjust my thinking to cooking for home. There is a very high quality local range chicken that comes on sale at $.79/# once a month or so at our local market and we have taken to buying three at a time and freezing them. If I do a simple and tasty roast chicken, we can get a first night dinner from it. Another night I shred it either for enchiladas or pasta and Kathy will still have some for sandwiches for her lunch. By buying the whole bird, we are able to get the cost down to about $.70 per person per portion. The irony here, is, of course, that we are able to eat a good portion of protein for less than the cost of our vegetables.

I've also been finding bargains with pork which seems to go on sale fairly regularly as well. I picked up an 18 ounce pork tenderloin on sale at $4.99/# and we got a really nice dinner and three lunches out of it. Pork loin comes on sale here quite a bit as well and that's something I've been able to stretch. We get dinner for two off a two pound roast the first night, escalopes cut thin and sauteed for another meal, another enchilada dinner (I've been honing my Mexican chops) for a third and yet more sandwiches for Kathy to take to work. Again, we can get our portion cost down to less than $.70 per, and again, that is less than the green vegetable that goes on the plate to accompany it.

All of this makes it easier for me to see why fast food restaurants do so well. I am a professional cook who doesn't mind spending time in the kitchen, and it takes time to be creative with where the various parts of our animals are going to go. For single parent families or families with both partners working, it isn't always feasible to buy economically and plan meals accordingly. A quick trip to the local fast food outlet feeds the family quickly, relatively cheaply and requires no planning; fresh vegetables be damned (well, there is lettuce and tomato on the burger, isn't there?).


A recent discovery through a tip from a co-worker may have done a bit to help with my seafood craving. Pedro, the lead cook at my new job told me the other day that he had seen a place on Lancaster in Salem that had live fish in tanks and that also had whole fish on ice. I had done my internet searching and had even gone old school and used the yellow pages, but as far as I knew there was no such place.

My deep curiosity led me to wander through Salem and over onto Lancaster, a street mostly lined with fast food franchises and strip malls. I nearly drove past the sign it was so hard to see, but there is was, four lanes over; a papered-over storefront in a nearly uninhabited strip mall with a sign that said "Pescados Frescos". Yes, in Spanish. I was going to blow it off and save it for another time, but suddenly two whole lanes cleared to my left and I was able to swing into the left hand turn lane. I hung the left and circled around so that I could get to this nearly hidden outpost that may or may not have good fresh fish.

I pulled right up in front, the only car in the parking lot and ducked into the front door. There was a young Asian woman at the register and a few scant aisles of groceries, but there, at the back, I could see some rather opaque plastic cases and what looked like fish on ice right in front of them. I gave her a quick smile and headed straight to the back. Yes, there in front, on ice, were whole striped bass, mullet, rock fish and even trout. Behind them in the plastic cases were four sizes and types of shrimp, squid and octopus. Next to them was a tank with live Maine lobsters. This was good.

I was delighted with what I saw and my delight turned to near ecstasy when I scanned farther back and saw tanks, big tanks filled with water and live things. The motors of running water filters hummed above them. The only people in the store were the young woman at the register, an older Asian woman in an apron with a broom at the back of the store and me. I nearly skipped over to the tanks and there they were, in the front, sacks of oysters and clams; behind them, huge tanks filled with live tilapia and behind them, further still, live Dungeness crabs, hundreds of them. Eureka, I had found it. Finally, fresh fish and live crabs right here in Salem.

I had to flag down the woman in the back to get her help. She was not entirely interested in me until I expressed my deep desire in buying a crab. I told her I wanted the biggest one she could find. The larger the crab, the better the meat to shell ratio and I wanted meat.
She donned a heavy rubber glove, reached in and started grabbing. The first couple she came up with seemed fine to me, I was so excited by this point, but she shook her head and tossed them back in. After grabbing a step stool to give her a better reach, she immersed her hand way in the back and came up with a large and lively specimen. He was huge (by Dungeness crab standards) and I nodded, yes, yes, yes.

She stood in front of my for a moment, holding up the crab with his legs churning and waving wildly. With brilliant economy of movement she had him in a paper bag and then in a white plastic sack and was thrusting him to me. Nothing more was said. She gestured to the cash register and walked away. That was it; I paid my $5.99/# for him (it came to just over $15) and hustled out to the truck.

I cooked the crab that afternoon in a classic "crab boil" of hot water, cayenne, smoked paprika, bay leaves, black peppercorns, lemons, garlic and onions. I dropped him into the boiling water (and no, this doesn't bother me one bit), let it come back up to a boil, and turned it off. When the water was cooled to tepid, I reached in, drained the crab, put him in a bowl and refrigerated him. I do not rinse the crab off as it just rinses away whatever flavoring agents one has put into the "crab boil".

The next night Kathy and I dined on fresh cracked crab with a green herb aioli, garlic bread and a big green salad with tomatoes and avocados. I was in heaven. Fresh cracked Dungeness crab is one of the first seafood items I learned to eat, at a very young age, and is one of my food cravings. And no, there is no Dungeness crab in Costa Rica. I will go back to the market this week, perhaps for a whole striped bass, perhaps for something else. It depends on what they have and what looks good. It's nice to finally have the choice.


1/2 Cup Chopped Parsley
1/4 Cup Chopped Chives
3 Garlic Cloves, smashed

1 Whole Egg
Juice of 2 Lemons
Dash of Tabasco
1/2 Cup Canola Oil
1/2 Cup Olive Oil
S&P to taste

In a small food processor, blend the herbs, garlic, tabasco, egg and lemon juice. With the motor running, drizzle in the canola oil slowly at first and then more quickly as the oil is incorporated. Repeat with the olive oil and when all the oil is added check the aioli for thickness. I occasionally like to drizzle a bit of warm water into the sauce with the motor running to make it a bit thinner. Check for salt and pepper and chill for a couple of hours. The flavors improve as the sauce sits.

Friday, April 1, 2011



It would seem that you can keep the chef out of the restaurant, but you cannot keep the chef out of the kitchen. Now that I am blissfully cohabiting, I have embraced my household duties whole-heartedly. And a particular favorite of mine is the duty of putting dinner on the table each and every night for my overworked (but certainly not under loved) sweetheart.

These few weeks in Oregon have found me adapting rather nicely, and actually cottoning to, cooking at home for two. I know, I know, scold me; this is what at least one partner in every relationship since the beginning of time has done. But for me it represents a sea change in the way I view shopping and cooking; a chance to plan more intimately and shop more economically.

When I cook in a restaurant setting it seems that there is always a way to get rid of the left-overs. They can be incorporated into the next day's lunch special, or, better still, they can live a second life as part of an appetizer or when blended into a sauce or soup. Best of all, the guest who ate the initial offering is rarely around to see it in its second life.

I find that buying for the home, and particularly buying for two, requires far more planning and far more awareness. A former sous-chef of mine used to quote his grandmother to the effect that the definition of eternity was "two people and a ham." So I have embarked into the task of buying smaller amounts, utilizing the freezer far more than I am used to and attempting to paint my leftovers in more attractive and different colors from the palate of taste.

This week I raided the freezer for the second set of chicken breasts I had wrapped up when a pack of four was on sale; for two packets of ground beef that Kathy had obtained as part of the purchase of a quarter of beef; and lastly for a packet of turkey breast meat that had been frozen after we had slow-cooked a whole breast in the crock pot. My mission was to turn them into something new, fresh and not too altogether familiar (although, it should be noted, not all at the same time).

Tuesday, I decided, would be the chicken and this was an easy one. There were two big half breasts; wing bone still attached. We had bacon, we had mushrooms and we had fresh tomatoes. Best of all we had a the rich stock left from the slow cooking of the turkey breast. We had brown rice and we had whole wheat egg noodles; I opted for the noodles. There were also three small heads of fresh broccoli in the refrigerator.

I turned the oven to 450 and turned on both front burners. On one burner I put salted water to boil and on the other went a non-stick 12" fry pan, my favorite all purpose cooking vessel.
While waiting for the water to come to a boil I lightly seasoned the chicken breasts with salt, pepper and smoked paprika. When the fry pan came to heat, I put in a small amount of canola oil and crisped the skin of the chicken breasts. I flipped them over and into the oven they went.

At just that moment the water came to a boil so I blanched the broccoli florets, drained them and shocked them in an icy bath to halt the cooking process. At the cutting board I diced bacon, and tomatoes, quartered mushrooms and peeled and chopped garlic. I also pulled out a few green onions and cut them into small rings. I had the turkey stock ready. I put another pot of salted water on to boil and checked on the chicken.

When the chicken breasts cook meat-side down in the oven it really hastens the cooking process and they were nearly done. I took the pan out, poured off the cooking oil and placed the breasts in again, skin side down, but this time I added the diced bacon. This went back into the oven for five minutes to crisp the bacon. Again the pan came out and this time I lifted up the chicken breasts and scraped the mushrooms, tomato and green onions into the pan. I gave it a bit of a toss, put the chicken on top of the mix and put in in the oven one more time.

The second pot of water had come to a boil so I dropped in a big handful of curled whole wheat noodles and then pulled the chicken out of the oven one more time. I used my tongs to pluck the breasts, crisp and golden brown, out of the pan and put them on a plate. I put the pan on a burner and poured in the rich turkey stock. The aroma of the bacon and roasting mushrooms rushed right up at me. The turkey stock swirled around, picking up the little bits of tomato that had stuck to the bottom of the pan and incorporated them into the sauce. I brought it to a quick boil and then turned down the burner.

The time had come to put it all together! I sauteed a bit of garlic with butter and olive oil and added the broccoli florets with some salt and pepper. I drained off the noodles and tossed them in their cooking pan with a bit of olive oil. I put the chicken breasts back into the pan with the rich aromatic sauce and poured in the juices they'd left on the plate. I poured a bit of the pan sauce into the noodles and it was time to plate.

The noodles went down onto the plate first with the garlicky scented broccoli just above it. I sliced each crisp skinned breast into four thick medallions and overlapped them on top of the noodles. I grabbed a kitchen spoon and ladled the rich aromatic bacon/tomato/mushroom mixture over the top of the slices and to the table we went. It was cold out and this dish was a wonderful aromatic antidote to a rainy chilly night.

Night 2; Meatloaf ala Chef Dave; or, Calling Up Old Ghosts

I started making this meatloaf recipe in the mid-90's when I worked at the Elite Cafe on Fillmore St. in San Francisco. It started out as a bit of a derivation (read "borrowed") from a recipe used by my friend Philipe LaMancusa at Embarko in the early 90's and the one in Paul Prudhomme's first cookbook.

At the Elite it was cajun spice heavy, and we used a fairly standard gravy for it, made with a dark roux. One of the interesting adaptations that came out of the Elite was my sous chef, Steve Harlow and I mixing pureed canned chipotle chiles with ketchup and our house BBQ sauce for the glaze that would go on top. We both liked how the glaze caramelized as the meatloaf cooked, although at that time we were cooking the loaves in bread loaf pans so we weren't getting good coverage from the glaze.

The recipe took a little trip down to a N'Awlins style restaurant I opened in SF's Cannery called Belle Roux (great reviews, bad location) and was run as a special from time to time. I was fiddling with the gravy and ended up adding deeply caramelized onions to it, echoing a gravy that Philipe (once again) had put on a pork loin dish at Embarko that he called "burnt onion gravy". I used the same glaze there, but was hand forming the loaves so that the glaze would run down over the sides, lending them more of that spicy sweet caramelized goodness.

I took the recipe to the masses when I left Belle Roux and went to work as a Corporate Chef for Gap Inc. The Gap's headquarters was home to rather an upscale cafeteria/cafe and the staff was just over 80% women. That in no way kept the lines on "meatloaf day" from going out the cafe doors and wrapping down through the hallways. We would sell 12-14 meatloafs (loaves?) a day there and would be sold out by 1:00 each afternoon. Diets went by the wayside for the meatloaf and gravy over mashed potatoes.

All of this history brings us to this Wednesday past when I decided that Kathy and I would take full advantage of the packets of ground beef that were the by-product of her quarter beef purchase. I bought a pound and a half of freshly ground unseasoned pork sausage at the local market as the addition of pork makes the meatloaf moister and set out to make a recipe I had not made in at least nine years.

It's a good thing that there was plenty of bacon in the freezer because like so many other Southern/N'Awlins recipes, that's how this one starts. I cut a couple of strips in a fine dice and started them in a pan. Alongside them on the cutting board I had placed the elements of the "holy trinity"; onion, bell pepper (red, in this case, and in most cases for me; I hate the green ones) and celery. As usual, garlic found it's way in there as well. When the bacon was about half cooked and had rendered enough fat, I put a fine mirepoix of the "trinity" into the pan along with a teaspoon or so of a pre-made "cajun" spice blend. I tossed all this together, let it cook for only a few minutes and turned it out onto a sheet pan to chill.

The two packet of beef went into a mixing bowl along with the pork, two eggs, a fistful of breadcrumbs and then what else? We had some ketchup, so I added a bit of that. There was some Stubb's BBQ sauce in the refrigerator so I added a few shakes into the mix. Salt and pepper? Well, of course, along with several dashes of Lea&Perrin's, a few drops of Tabasco and lastly, the chilled spiced vegetables. I mixed all this together and patted it out into a loaf form onto a cookie pan.

The glaze would have to be a bit of an improvisation. We had no chipotle, but we had a Thai-style sweet red chile sauce. We definitely had enough ketchup and we had more BBQ sauce so all three went into a mixing bowl along with a tiny splash more of L&P. I mixed it up and brushed it on, nice and thick. I laid two long strips of bacon across the top in an "X" and the loaf was oven ready. Pretty as a picture it was (so I took one).

With the loaf in a 400 degree oven, it was gravy time. I thin sliced (half moons for me) a big yellow onion and put the slices in a cast iron skillet with a couple of teaspoons of fat I had taken off the turkey stock along with about a third of a cube of butter. The onions were set on a medium heat to cook slowly enough to keep from burning, but hot enough so that they would color; color deeply.

While the onions did their caramelizing thing, I brought about two cups of chicken and turkey stock to boil and then let it simmer. After about 20 minutes of tossing and browning, tossing and browning, the onions were starting to get some color and I was getting bored, so I turned up the heat. With the higher heat I kept tossing the onions in the pan, but was starting to get some of the crisp edges that give this gravy its distinctive flavor. When caramelizing onions, the cook wants them to be brown, limp and evenly cooked. For this gravy, I want the onions browned in the middle, but crisp and nearly (but, oh, not quite) black on the edges.

At what I considered the perfect point, I added a handful of flour to the pan and using a wooden spoon, coaxed it into the liquid fat that surrounded the onions. It thickened quickly and then, as happens, it fell into a softer form as a bit of the liquid from the onions worked its way in. Now it would be like cooking a roux, much like one would for gumbo or other cajun stews.

I tossed and mixed the onions and roux until the color of the roux was nearly like a dark peanut butter; a really dark peanut butter. Very, VERY, carefully, I poured the simmering stock into the skillet and still using the long wooden spoon, stirred the mixture until it was "as one". Still stirring, I brought the gravy to a boil and then reduced it to a low simmer. The browning would have cooked most of the flour taste out, but the gravy now needed a long slow cooking to incorporate all the flavors.

I left the gravy on a low heat to slowly commingle the flavors and turned to the loaf at hand. It was nearly done and I knew that it would need to sit and repose (or reposee, as they say in France). I find that most meatloaves, despite being wonderful straight from the oven, may be better the second day after all the juices have redistributed themselves in the tiny crevices in the meat.
But we were eating it that night and so it would have to rest for as long as we could let it before we had at it.

Mashed potatoes were and are the obvious accompaniment to meatloaf and gravy and I had yukon golds peeled and in the water and boiling away. I keep a jar of roasted garlic cloves in the refrigerator for moments such as this and they awaited their fate of being mashed in with the finished spuds. I had been craving asparagus even though the locals are not quite here yet (late, late Spring) so caved and bought some Mexican product; please don't tell a soul.

The gravy had reached it's desired flavor and doneness, the spuds had been mashed (along with the roasted garlic cloves) and anointed with butter and cream; the asparagus were simmering lightly in a bath of butter and sauteed garlic. All that remained was to put that first cut in the loaf and put the plate together. I broke through the crust and glaze with a sharp knife and was greeted by a waft of steam and a seductively spicy aroma. The mashers went down on the plate surrounded by the asparagus. The slabs of meatloaf went right on top of the potatoes and a generous ladle of gravy covered it all. Dinner was on; really on.

We enjoyed (I enjoyed) this dinner more than anything that I've cooked in quite some time. It may have been nine years, but it was every bit as good as I remembered. Costa Rica may have steered me a bit off meat, but this loaf was divine, heavenly and yes, delicious.

Night 3; Finally Mexican

I grew up in California and have always loved Mexican food and cooking with Mexican ingredients. I made my first chile rellenos over 40 years ago and perfected a tomatillo "salsa verde" for crab or chicken enchiladas that my sisters both still use. Mexican culture is so deeply entwined with the cultures of both California and Texas, both states where I have lived and it has always been an undercurrent of flavor and style in my cooking.

For nearly all of my time in Costa Rica I drew on influences from Mexican cuisine. I made fruit salsas based on the the "pico de gallo" model; I made guacamole using just fresh avocados, lime, chiles and cilantro; I made vegetarian stuffed chiles that were not too different from my early chiles rellenos and I used Mexican techniques for braising pork with citrus and chiles. But, I have not cooked any real Mexican food in a long, long time.

This week we had big chunks of leftover turkey in our refrigerator from a whole turkey breast that Kathy had braised in the crock pot. I needed a way to use it up that would get us out of the flavors we had been currently eating, and I needed to do something that would get me on a different track. Mexican was something I had been missing, Mexican was something I had been craving and Mexican it was going to be.

The last time I had made Turkey Enchiladas was in Austin two and a half years ago with some Thanksgiving leftovers, but then I had used my old standby green sauce. This time I wanted to find some good quality dried chiles and do a traditional red chile enchilada sauce. It took a little hunting to find the chiles I wanted, but a very helpful young gentlemen in the produce department at Safeway pulled a box of loose packed dried New Mexico chiles out and let me rummage through them to find what I wanted. In addition I bought a pack of dried ancho chiles to balance out and deepen the flavor.

To start the process I heated a cast iron skillet to take the place of the traditional Mexican "comal" and toasted the chiles on each side before immersing them in water to rehydrate. I used the same hot iron pan to dry toast thick slices of onion, halved tomatoes and unpeeled garlic cloves. When each of them were toasted I put them in a blender (I peeled the garlic after toasting) along with the rehydrated chiles that I had stemmed, seeded and torn into pieces. When I blended it all with some of the soaking water, it turned into a beautiful deep, thick, rust colored liquid.

The next step is to lightly "fry" the sauce in hot oil. It seems odd to "fry" a liquid, but it helps to take the raw flavor out of the chiles and intensifies those flavors as well. When the sauce hits the hot oil it comes to a quick boil in the pan. I then turn the flame down and let the sauce simmer for nearly an hour. The smell is haunting and ever so familiar.

I cut and tore our leftover turkey breast into pieces and chunks and put it into a bowl along with cubes of avocado, shredded Monterey Jack cheese, some minced green onions and a healthy ladle of the newly made red sauce. When mixed together, this would be the filling for the enchiladas. I next dipped each white corn tortilla in the hot red sauce to soften it so that it would not tear in the rolling and proceeded to roll up six tortillas. I coated the bottom of a pyrex with more sauce and laid the finished enchiladas in the pan. Another thick coat of the red sauce went over them and then a flurry of grated jack cheese. A layer of foil over the top made our enchiladas oven ready.

While the enchiladas baked I prepared a simple white rice that I mixed with a handful of chopped green onions and cilantro. I anointed a lettuce mix with just lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper and left it to toss when the enchiladas were ready. I took the foil off the enchiladas after 25 minutes and gave them another 15 minutes in the oven so that the cheese took on a nice golden brown color. I pulled them from the over steaming and beautiful.

The plate was simple but colorful; the red of the enchiladas and their sauce, the simple green salad and the speckled green and white of the rice. Kathy and I took out first bites of the enchiladas and it was hauntingly familiar; slightly bitter but with hint of sweetness, spicy but not too, and deep with flavor. I had put a dollop of sour cream on top of them when I had put them on the plate and the blandness of the cream and the turkey/avocado filling were the perfect foils to allow the bite of the red chile sauce to shine through. We powered through these and barely spoke while we did.

It was such a pleasure to experience this classic flavor once again. It brought back so many taste-bud and olfactory memories which in turn sparked a host of thoughts of other meals and other times.

It is one of the powerful properties of food and cooking that it can take us back to so many other places. These three meals each called up flavors from my cooking past and allowed me to revisit and re-practice techniques which will never leave me. It is amazing how a trip to the freezer and the need to rid ourselves of left-overs can open the door to the past and help to remind us that the skills and the flavors are always there.

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.