Sunday, June 10, 2018

BOURDAIN

BOURDAIN

The first time I met Anthony Bourdain was on a rainy night in San Francisco at A Clean Well Lighted Place for books. He was on his first ever book tour and was doing a reading from Kitchen Confidential, the chapter about how cooks talk to each other in the kitchen. A chapter which he chewed off and re-enacted with drama and gusto.
The reading area had been set with about 30 chairs in-between a couple of bookshelves. Those filled quickly and it was standing room only behind the chairs, maybe 100 people. There was a contingent of California Culinary School drones in their stiff white coats, clutching their knife bags. I had had the good sense to arrive early and was up front in the second row.
The reading was great, and we all got an up-close and personal view of the energy and passion of the author/chef before he had become "the big thing". He read with passion for his own words and you could have heard the proverbial pin drop. Pre and post reading he spoke in that New York city rapid fire kitchen-speak that we have all come to know.
After the reading I waited until the crowd had thinned a bit then introduced myself and told him he had written the East Coast version of my life. He laughed out loud and said, "you know, I hear that a lot. Let me see your hands." I showed him my right hand with my well-raised and seasoned knife callous and he laughed again. We talked "cook talk" for about ten minutes with people constantly breaking in. I wished him good luck on his tour and went back out into the rain.
The next time I saw him was the summer of 2015 and my girlfriend and sisters had bought me (and her) second row seats to his "Close to the Bone" speaking tour in Portland at the Arlene Schnitzer Hall which came with passes to a post talk "meet and greet" at a local restaurant.
The talk was great. He spoke for nearly two hours without stopping, pausing briefly for slugs of water. He never hesitated--there were none of the "uhs, or mmms" of an unpracticed speaker. He was good. No, he was better than good, he was brilliant. The sold out hall was the antithesis of 30 chairs at the bookstore, and his schtick was more nuanced, but he was still the same.
Post "show" we waited in line to have our posters, books, etc, signed and our pictures taken. When I got to the front, after shaking his hand, I reminded him of that reading in San Francisco over 15 years ago and he looked at me astonished and said, "You were there? I remember that," and laughed out loud. We both laughed when he said, "That was a lot different than this."
We shook hands again, and the next person stepped up.

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I was just asked a question on Quora, where I occasionally throw in my two cents worth, "What made Anthony Bourdain special to me?" From the looks of it there are a lot of Bourdain questions floating around on that site. But, being the kind of guy I am, I answered...

"Anthony Bourdain made being a professional cook acceptable. Well, not necessarily acceptable, but far less anonymous, mysterious and edgy.

When I first encountered Anthony Bourdain, via an essay in the New Yorker, I had been working in the restaurant business for over 25 years. I was committed to and also used to the notion of having a career that lived forever on the borders of what was commonly accepted as reasonable employment. As cooks/chefs we were outlaws, bad boys, ex-cons, ad finitum, but mostly people who couldn’t hold jobs in a normal employment situation.

By the time Mr. Bourdain wrote the essay that blossomed into Kitchen Confidential, the Food Network was beginning to open people’s minds as to their relationship with food, but also to introduce them to chefs as people. As you may or may not recall, most of the “personalities” on the early Food Network were restaurant chefs.
Kitchen Confidential told the story, or a version of it, of my life, but also the lives of countless other chefs/cooks who had labored in rather adverse conditions in complete obscurity for a dining public who was entirely clueless about the struggle that went on each day and night to get the food on their plates. The publicity garnered by Kitchen Confidential and subsequently Mr, Bourdain’s exposure (not to mention his charming personality) gave a face to those of us who had been laboring thusly and went a long way in helping to hold the profession of Chef in a far more acceptable light.

I am forever grateful to Anthony Bourdain for writing the East Coast version of my life in the kitchen but also for normalizing and even romanticizing to a certain degree the profession in which I continue to labor."

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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
.
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.