Monday, July 30, 2012


I am a chef.  And I am the author of a cookbook, a real live cookbook (“Cooking at La Cusinga with Chef of the Jungle”, available on Amazon and Google).  Finally.  It sounds easy, doesn’t it?  Lots of chefs write cookbooks, and lots of people who are not chefs write cookbooks.  How hard can it be to write down some recipes, especially if you create them every day?  As it turns out, the writing is the easy part, but self-publishing a finished, beautiful, heft-it-in-your-hand-and-drool-over-the-photos cookbook took a lot more steps than I knew existed.

The writing and publishing spanned two countries and two years.  Working at eco-lodge La Cusinga on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, new recipes tripped over one another as I discovered the underutilized bounty of amazing ingredients available.  Shrimp, mangos, ayote, mandarinas, hearts of palm, artisanal goat cheese—these ingredients don’t show up in the faux French restaurants that tourists flock to, and the locals stick to beans and rice.  I got to know the owners of tiny organic farms and bought fish right off the boats.  The lodge was full of guests and rare was the day when I wasn’t asked for a recipe for one my “fabulous” fresh tasting dishes.  “You should have a cookbook, why don’t you have a cookbook?”  I heard it so often I started to believe it.  My boss offered his backing, and we were off and running.

It took about 250 hours of writing and menu testing to get the recipes down on paper.  The photos I took on the fly as we served the food.  With a talented local artist working on the cover, we were getting closer to production.  Under the vagaries of life stepped in, and I found myself moving to the Willamette Valley in Oregon to be with my fiancée, leaving the tropics behind but confident that I could find a small publishing house interested in “Chef of the Jungle”.  After all, isn’t Costa Rica the darling of high-end vacationeers in the U.S. and elsewhere?  But I got a quick turndown in some cases and no response at all in others.  “No one cares about Costa Rica” was the opinion of one publisher.  I shelved the book.  I sulked.  I immersed myself in cooking.

Fast forward six months.  With strong encouragement (read kick in the pants) from my fiancée and family, I pulled the files back up and took a look.  It wasn’t bad.  It was better than I remembered.  In fact, it was even pretty good.  Good enough that I blithely thought, in this day and age of on-line wizardry, “I’ll just publish it myself.”  Ha.

It helps if you have a team.  My sister, a professional indexer, edited and indexed it for me.  (We all know how crucial a good index is to a cookbook, how many times have you cursed when you couldn’t find an entry for “chard” because it was under “Swiss”?)  My brother-in-law worked on the cover.  Together they formatted it and dropped the color photos into the right places.  My younger sister did the copy editing, weeding out stray commas with a vengeance.  They all, bless their hearts, made “suggestions”.  Suggestions incorporated, final adjustments to color, indexing, and table of contents made, photos in place and text formatted, it was starting to look like a book.
But there are more steps than that.  A book has to be copyrighted.  It has to have a barcode.  It has to have an ISBN number, two in fact—one for the hard copy and one for the .pdf version.  Check, check, check.  It was ready to sell.

Sell, yes, but how?  So many people had told me that it was incredibly simple, a piece of cake (no pun intended) to create an ebook through Google or Amazon.  Uh huh, right.  That would be for those of you that are versed in the intricacies of .pdf and jpeg files, of royalty and pricing platforms.  I floundered in the minutiae of Google’s instructions (where the book still languishes).  I did manage, after several false starts, to get the book into a Kindle format using Amazon’s KDM program.  Still working with Amazon I dug into their Create Space program to turn the book into a “print on demand” paperback.  Create Space reported the book ready to print and sent me a proof (not free).  Some issues remain, but with Create Space you can fix things as you go.

Some of us are still adherents to real books, made with paper and with pages you can turn, and I wanted printed copies that I could sign and sell, that you could prop up in your recipe holder or give to your aunt for Christmas.  I needed a small, high-quality printer that would do a run of 100 books or less, all that my budget would stand.  On a lead from an old Mennonite bookbinder practically in my own backyard, I found a small printer, Gorham Printing, up in the tiny town of Centralia, Washington.  The price was right, and off went the .pdf files.  Now I had both digital and hard-copy books I could sell.

Ah, yes, sell.  As in, marketing.  Ugh.  I turned to Facebook—mocked by many, but still a great way to reach people.  A copy of my book cover posted, I sent it to every “friend” I could think of, and, by virtue of Facebook’s pervasiveness, to some I couldn’t think of as well.  I pushed the ease and familiarity of buying it on Amazon.  I pushed yesterday, I pushed the day before yesterday, and I pushed this morning.  I wangled a full-page story in a Costa Rican newspaper, and put an ad in a coastal magazine.  I’ve been lucky enough to have a good number of pre-orders, some Kindle downloads, and a handful of “print on demand” paperbacks.  I got great help getting here from friends and family, but now it’s up to me.  Sales, R&D, bookkeeping, inventory control, and tech support.  And, oh yeah, I’m also the author of a cookbook.  And a chef.

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.