Friday, August 31, 2007


I kicked off my sandals and hid them away so they wouldn't get stolen, rolled up my pants to keep then sufficiently dry and padded out over the sharp rocks to where the shipwreck is and...I saw it. Chunks of rigging, the central masting and the enormous chain running out to sea just like I said. A huge bath tub drain. Then we went fishing for snapper and octopus hunting. THEN I started reading a Joseph Conrad book before making a sandwich out of fresh mozzarella made down the strret by some italian lady in her tico kitchen. This is even BETTER than vacation.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Sunken Ships and Sea Urchin LIps

It's been a week since my little jaunt to Los Angeles and although it would have been super fun to hear back from the Top Chef folks, I have been really happy to get back to Langosta. I've had a few private dinners to cook for some folks, a wedding to plan, and plenty of time to soak up some L'Amour western wisdom.

I woke up early today and headed up to the B&B to sip a cup of coffee and give the staff an armload of empanadas and tortillas I bought yesterday at Co-op Tortilla in Santa Cruz. The moon tide was really really low so I took the opportunity to enjoy a rare moment of winter sun here and wandered out to the reef to wade through the tidal pools and look at the Chinese freighter shipwreck. Run aground in the 70's, there's a huge section of mast that is visible when the tide wanes and although I've not spotted any of it yet, there are big sections of anchor chain that run along the bottom of the reef and out to the near-by churning sea. While I'm looking for the chain, I always end up thinking about that old cartoon where someone inevitably pulls the link attatched to the ocean's drain plug and in a foaming whoosh of water the sea bubbles and gurgles down the tube.

I gingerly poked through the bubbling pools toeing around grumbling sea urchins, lathargic sea snails, and a bobbling juvenile blue puffer fish taking his time to make sure all of the slick rocks were polished and clean.

There's no way, in evaluating life, that I could ever be upset about the way things managed to turn out, Top Chef or not. Especially since there is a new grocery store here that sells 8 different types of Haribo Candy. Mmmmm...Addiction. Delicious.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Top Chef to Be?

I decided that the best thing for me to do while I relaxed in my Los Angeles Westin hotel room would be to officially order room service for the first time. An expensive venture, I know but hey, maybe if I actually make it on this's something I could get used to.

This is the official update on how all of this is going to work out, in case any of you were wondering: I have absolutely NO idea. It's 6.48a here and I've already been up for an hour trying to convince myself that I'm not all that nervous about cooking today. The impossibly early hour is giving it away though. I'm nervous and desperately fighting off the Meloy urge to over-caffeinate (flashes the O.C. hand signals to Rebecca).

After missing my first connecting flight, I got here at 4am yesterday morning finding my bags, including all of my knives lost and the rental car lot empty. As I looked at the several families sleeping in the lobby of Advantage Rentals I thought "Dang this isn't such a good start." But smiles and jokes prevailed and I was soon driving the worst looking bright yellow Jeep Wrangler to the Westin to sleep in the greatest bed in the history of modern bedding.

The next morning I rounded up my bags, a phone charger, and a friend for lunch and drove out to Hollywood to find out where this nonsense was going down. "Les Deux" the super clubby and often seen (read scene) restaurant on North Las Palmas was where I would be testing my ability to endure four hours of nerves mixed with knives and flames. As soon as I snuck a peek inside I knew I had seen this place before in "The Hills." Yeah I've watched it...guilty as charged. Around 4pm or so I headed back to the hotel to finish up my application, iron out my new coat, and relax a bit.

I'm about to shower and shave my face before I head back over to Sunset. I figure I'll show up really early just in case everyone in LA is there. Gulp. That's all I know. There is absolutely no other information I can provide and trust me, I've looked. I don't know what I'll be doing. I don't know how long I'll be there. I don't know what the format is although I hope they just call it all off as soon as I walk in. "OK people thank you for coming out! Our Top Chef JUST walked in so everyone can go ahead and go!"

Delusional? Yeah, maybe. Over-caffeinated? You bet.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Remember me? Probably not...

A very brief account of what happens when you mess with the laws of nature. Enjoy.

Culinary Speed Bumps in the Road of Life and the Cultural Ramifications of Chocolate Cheese or Lost in Translation: A Guide to Surviving Really Really Bad Ideas

My guard went up instantly, and not without reason. The garishly colored sign posted in front of my favorite Costa Rican milk shake stand declared “A New Way to Enjoy Your Cheese” in the most eloquent Spanish I imagine they could find. Up until this very moment I had never even considered a new way to enjoy cheese even possible much less needed. I mean, it’s a perfect food already right? I was always the first to joke that cheese was perfect with everything but I was now very quickly regretting any glib cracks I had made in the past. I scanned the panel and read “Cheese Delicately Flavored with Chocolate” in the foreground over an image of rolling verdant pastureland and bucolic cattle grazing under lazy drifting clouds. Considering Spanish is not my first language, I had one of those cartoon-esque double takes, squeakily rubbing my eyes as I confirmed in fact that I had not misread anything. Dear God…I hadn’t.

Food, and more specifically eating, is an amazing thing; an overwhelmingly yet often overlooked sensual experience dictated by our own cultures, controlled by our own personal tastes and constantly compared to and even acting as a rival to sex. From the day we are born, we are told when to eat, what to eat and how we should eat it and aside from the tortured few who produce dishes with wasabi flavored foam (or anything on a menu in quotation marks for that matter), the majority of us don’t really question those rules.

But at what point did Americans get to have Apple Pie as their national dish while the Chinese got stuck with Thousand Year Eggs, a duck egg rolled in ash and lime and buried in the back yard for 100 days until the white coagulates black and jellied in the shell? As strangers, our first reaction when we come across little cultural gems like this is revulsion, cold sweats and maybe a touch of dry heaving most likely forgetting that to others, our everyday food could be just as exotic and quite possibly as disgusting sounding. Hot dogs…point and case.

So in my fledgling intercultural understanding, I figured I might need to step up, walk the walk, and at least try the most recent and completely unnecessary improvement on cheese before I declare it unfit for consumption. So, as I stood there eyeing the tray of now more-than-room temperature samples, my palms began to twitch just a bit in that “oh crap” clammy kind of way and the young girl in charge of manning the display of slightly sweating cubes of brown “cheese” wandered over.

“Would you like to try our new product?” she asked me with an enthusiastic smile. I told her I wasn’t sure how to answer that question. She repeated herself, a little slower this time, most likely guessing that the flustered gringo in front of her didn’t understand Spanish properly and needed a little help. I assuaged her doubts as I nabbed up a caramel colored chunk of choco-cheese and popped it in my mouth before I could justify running to the car.

For those first few seconds, I was ok as my brain told me “Mmmm Chocolate” but then it got confused somewhere in between chews and the message very quickly became “Oh no it ain’t chocolate. It’s cheeeeeese.” The cute sample girl beamed on with a broad smile that said one of two things: “Heh heh. I tried it too…pretty nasty, huh?” or “Mmmm chocolate cheese” but I really couldn’t tell as the tears began to well up and blur my vision. It was absolutely all I could do to get that tiny treat down and it took every ounce of my being to kindly thank her before briskly walking out into the rain feeling cheated, dejected and just down right bummed out.

I had done what I was morally obligated to do hadn’t I? Don’t knock until you try it, RIGHT?! In all of my own internal hemming and hawing about trying new things and having an open mind when it comes to culinary experiences, I overlooked a huge key point: You don’t always have to try something to determine if it’s not really a good idea. Many times you can take a quick look and use a little reasoning (read “common sense”) to make a sound decision. These things most likely can be safely avoided: experimental parachute testing, crocodile wrangling, crack cocaine, and cheese delicately flavored with chocolate.