Sunday, October 29, 2017

ALMOST THERE! Part 1

Part 1.

Almost there, yes, we are almost there.  It has been an interesting and occasionally nerve-wracking couple of weeks planning, waiting, planning some more, and then waiting even more.  In the midst of rainy season here on the Costa Ballena our piddling plans to have a special dinner and then install a new Chef with a partially new menu, there have been a few minor setbacks and some serious intervention from Mother Nature.

We weathered a major hit from Hurricane Nate that left several areas near us underwater.  It poured buckets, sheets of rain for 48 hours.  Power was out for anywhere from eight hours to two days depending on where one was and we lost water at Ballena Bistro for nearly three days.  Two low-lying towns, Cortes and Sierpe were nearly washed away.  Food drives, clothing drives, and house-cleaning drives (you should have seen the mud!) were organized as the community came together to help people get back on their feet.

But as will happen, Nate blew over, life went on, and so did Anja and my progress in building, or rebuilding our new venture.  Feeling confident at that point we planned a special four course Dinner with the Chef of the Jungle for Friday night, October 27, and darned if we didn't book every seat within 24 hours. I wrote a menu that was comprised of favorite dishes I had done at La Cusinga, as a sort of "re-introduction" of me and my cooking style to the community.  The dinner was creating a buzz, even during the "low season" and we were buzzed.

 I got in the kitchen the Monday before the dinner with a couple of bags of nicely ripe tomatoes and made a batch of my Roasted Tomato Soup, a simple recipe, and a bit of a signature item for me.  Simple it is, but delicious as well.  We'd decided on "Death By Bananas" as a dessert and after I caramelized a couple of batches of bananas with butter and tapa dulce, the local cane sugar, Anja turned out some wonderful caramelzed banana ice creams.  We were ON it!  We'd made arrangements for the delivery of four pargo, the local ocean-going red snapper as our entree, to be paired with a green gazpacho sauce.  We had put in our order for organic produce  with my suppliers from seven years before, the married couple  Mauren and Ademar.  We were set, or so we thought.

 But there was to be more.  On the heels of Nate came Ophelia whose promise and portent was deemed of even greater impact by the prognosticators.  No, this is not a trait exclusive to weathermen in the US, or anywhere else.  It would seem that there is no TV weatherman anywhere who doesn't love a prediction of impending disaster.  For the two of us the notion of impending disaster did not fit in at all well with dinner plans four days hence and after 24 hours of nervous pacing, multiple texts, and yes, that hand-wringing, we pulled the plug on the dinner.  Sad, but even sadder would have been having several hundred dollars (or thousands of colones) worth of food and no way to cook it and no one to serve it to.  People understood.

The postscript to all of this is that although we got some heavy rains we never did get the full power of the storm and it sat off the coast for a couple of days and gradually dissipated.  Murphy's Law of restaurants tells me however, that if we had gone through with the dinner the storm would have clobbered us.  The dinner will be revived at some point, but the next step comes this Tuesday with a partially new menu and a new kitchen for Chef Dave.

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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.