Three chefs reinvent the flavor of Costa Rican food

By: Paco Cervilla

Costa Rican gastronomy is going through one of its best moments. The local palate has become more demanding but also more specific and rigorous.

It is necessary to take into consideration that until a few years ago the majority of restaurants had a typical basic menu of international meals and the offer for specializing restaurants was small. Nevertheless, with time, new chefs have come to give a new sense to the Costa Rican spoon.

These masterpieces not only have to taste well, but also look good. The visual experience of the plate has become with time a more indispensable component in the ritual of eating, even to the point of expressing itself like any other declaration of design or art.

So we proposed a challenge to three national chefs who are beginning to have their own voice within the local gastronomic world. The challenge consisted of three aspects:

  1. To create a plate that they had never done before.
  2. To be based on some personal experience-concept to realize it.
  3. To be prepared under any skill.

Chef José González of Mercat and his 'canteen ravioli’ dish

Jose is immersed in his memories as a child when his dad would take him to the Park of Athens, in Alajuela, to attend an English class together. Diagonal to the Park was the cantina Sosa de Chiza, there, behind a small window was a food service to passers-by without having to enter the Club. There was a succulent offering of tacos, gallos, empanadas, but the ravioli was his favorite. Served under a mountain of cabbage and sauces, he waited until the end of the improvised English class to ask for one.

Here, parts the idea of creating a dish that rescues the essence of these flavors, but in a lighter way. In addition, he had to generate new accents in the dish, such as the crisp of the purslane or heart of palm. But definitely one of the strong points is the fruit of the purple cabbage that gives the plate not only visual freshness, as it frames the ravioli that, but also as you taste it, it is a real surprise to the senses. The memory and nostalgia of a moment in time, portrayed in an ephemeral work that we could share with Joseph, as if the Park of Athens had moved to Barrio Escalante, San Jose.

Chef Maria Elena Murillode Raw Co. Juicery & Food and her plate 'My collage'

For a year and half María Elena has been trying to make dishes with raw ingredients. A more complex task than it seems, since in our own gastronomic history almost always all food is cooked. In this way, you discover a world of possibilities, textures, shapes and flavors. In addition, the nutrients are kept alive which makes food healthier.

Then the concept of María Elena was born, to use all her favorite flavors with raw ingredients in a single dish. She used the chayote, a Costa Rican traditional vegetable, as the base, processed it transforming it into noodles, along with a dressing of avocado. To this she added gooseberries, cilantro, jalapeno, lemon, radish and sweet potato, and the pomegranate seeds to give it the feminine touch, explains María Elena.

The flavors of this dish come together in very interesting way. On the one hand, as you eat them you feel the difference between each of the ingredients, but at the same time everything fits and complements perfectly. A fun, light dish. The dehydrated heart of palm is something I still think of recurrently.

Chef Juan Calderón de Pic Nic and his plate 'Summer'

Juan started by looking first for the ingredient that would give him a clue as to what he wanted to do and found it. Yellow plums until recently were in season. Reflecting on them, he comes to the conclusion that the sunny days were about to pass, and so bidding farewell to summer would be his inspiration.

Juan does not believe in very sweet desserts. He is always looking for this perfect balance between the acidic, the salty and the sweet. "For me a dessert is the final act of a play and it must clean the palate and refresh", he tells us. So to capture this idea, he did an Aebleskivers (Danish dessert) with a filling of jam of rhubarb (original vegetable of Asia), and of matcha tea, yellow summer plum and sorbet of gooseberries.

Earth colors, with yellow accents and green dots make of this dessert an eatable work of art, delicate, which we discover little by little, while it expands in our mouth, like summer.


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