Costa Rica has never been known for world-class cuisine, despite so many awesome, local, fresh ingredients. ¨Rice, beans and overcooked chicken¨ was all too frequently served. Yet recently the international magazine, Latin American Luxury, had a long article entitled ¨Costa Rica is waking up from its Culinary Slumber!” The article featured the Mirador restaurant at Arenas Del Mar Beachfront and Rainforest Resort.
This is the story of what happened:
Two of the hotel owners lived in Philadelphia, a serious foodie city. They themselves are also serious foodies. They challenged a dozen top Philly chefs to help create a great restaurant at Arenas Del Mar. The chefs accepted the challenge. One in particular, Chip Roman, agreed to lead the project. Chip has four restaurants in Philly, one of which, Blackfish, was previously named Top Restaurant by Philly Magazine.
Nobody realized it at the time, but the Project became an awesome and really fun example of cooperation between the two countries.
The deal was simple. No cash changed hands. Kitchen expertise was traded for a free luxury vacation for each chef and their loved one.
No stone was left unturned:
· The chefs upgraded the equipment and the workflow of the kitchen.
· They examined each vendor and recruited new ones. The 20 mile radius rule was adopted wherever feasible.
· A new Costa Rican head chef, Adrian Cerdas, was hired and his exclusively Tico team began intensive training.
· The menu was redesigned. It was brought up to international standards, without losing its Tico flavor.
· The dining room was upgraded. And the waitstaff received extensive training.
· The list of wines and cocktails was also upgraded.
· The restaurant became the first in Central and South America to be certified by the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness as having an excellent gluten-free capability.
Where are we now, almost two years later?
The Philly chefs have not only trained, but also inspired, everyone in the kitchen and dining room. The Tico team at the restaurant, working under the direction of Chip and Adrian, have risen to the challenge. The team is committed and is having a blast. Almost every week they Skype with Philadelphia to discuss certain dishes.
The excellence that has been learned has now also been transferred to Playitas, the hotel´s more casual restaurant on the beach.
The Philly chefs deserve our heartfelt thanks.
Four quotes sum up the great experience:
· From Chip Roman: “I would take this whole kitchen team and put them in any of my restaurants in Philadelphia”.
· From a sous-chef: “Even though there is no great cooking school in Costa Rica, I feel as though I have studied at one of the best in the US.”
· From the cocktail guy in the bar: “I have stolen her imagination”.
· From the customers: “Wow!” or some variation thereof.