Tuesday, June 25, 2013

LOOKING IN THE MIRROR

AND REFLECTING...

I know, I know, I know, nobody really wants to read anyone's morbid and/or maudlin reflections on aging and its partner growing old.  I will attempt, in this brief nod to the passage of years, to keep it light, positive and progressive.  Tomorrow I hit the age when I could, really could, collect Social Security.  I have also just begun a brand new job in another brand new kitchen.  As usual I am filled with excitement, anticipation, the urge to make it all happen now and the hope that THIS will be the one.  I have found a job close to home and am both happy and willing to take the trade-offs that present themselves to me.

 I just walked away, no, in reality fled from a job I was reasonably certain I wanted and needed.  I would be working for an Oregon institution, McMenamins.  I would have benefits, medical and dental.  I would make a rather nice salary.  And they told me I would be able to cook, to be creative.  Best of all, I would, after searching far and wide for over two years, be working full-time (and oh my, would I re-discover what full-time means to some in my occupation) at my chosen trade.

This was just not to be.  In returning to a big and self-styled loveable restaurant company it became painfully clear to me that their working model had been grasped and tweaked by the money people into a scheme that put food on the back burner (sorry) and systems on the front one.  The Brothers McMenamin had gone back to being what they are; a couple of large, gray bearded, beer loving Deadheads and their 62 restaurant empire was being run by soulless bean counters and ruthless upper management types.  Woe be unto those poor souls in the trenches of middle-management.  And that was me.  Oh well.  After three months of working 60-70 hours a week babysitting cooks throwing food at plates I left.

Like the sailor home from the sea (perhaps a bit of an overdramatic description of my spending four nights a week over on that side of the valley) I have come to home port and will now be working a mere 11 miles from my home.  I am now working where I bank, where I shop and where I attend my AA meetings.  I am cooking in what is essentially my hometown.  And I haven't done that in a long time.   I work with and for the two people who own (and built) the restaurant and I think that's a fine thing to be doing at my advanced age.

Did I think I'd still be doing this when I hit my 60's?  There were often extreme moments of doubt as to whether I'd even reach my 60's so that sort of thinking didn't really come into play.  I do my best not to do regrets, but since there is no Old Chef's Home I wish I'd been wise enough to take all of this a lot more seriously (or even seriously at all) when I was in my late 30's and 40's.  Seriously however, none of them were paying me enough to support  the lifestyle I thought I deserved.

Despite it all, I have arrived here, one day short of 62.  And I am grateful, truly grateful.  My mind still seems to work on a relatively consistent basis; my body, while full of the residual aches and pains of not only being hit by a taxi but also from spending over 40 years on my feet,  functions pretty much as it should; and lastly, and perhaps most importantly, I am still sober.  I have so many people to thank. To my two sisters, Nancy and Barbara, God bless you both, words can never express what I owe you and the gratitude I have; to my brothers in law, more of the same.  To Alcoholics Anonymous and everyone I have met in the program, I wish you peace and serenity.  And to Kathy, my love, thank you baby, thank you so much.

So here I go, happily, into the breach yet again.  Happy Birthday to me.

2 comments:

  1. Great blog, keep up the good work! I have another friend (also from Lafayette!) who was an executive chef for years. He left the biz to work at a marketplace where produce and finished foods are sold. Cheers!

    ReplyDelete
  2. You know what you inspiring to my dreams and I will be a private chef in austin texas someday!

    Thanks!

    ReplyDelete

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
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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.