Knowing Your Product — Sourcing Local Ingredients with Gilberto Briceño
One of the greatest resources of the Guanacaste region and Costa Rica in general is its tremendous biodiversity and vibrant natural ecosystems, which bring with them a nearly limitless supply of different flavors, ingredients, and possibilities for cooking. And still, even with such a wealth of natural resources all across the country, the value of buying local and knowing your supplier can’t be understated. A huge part of what sets great food apart from good food is the quality and freshness of the ingredients, and this difference is part of what defines the cooking style of Gilberto Briceño, a chef in Las Catalinas.
To Briceño, the best asset to his cooking is the world around him, and it is of the utmost importance to ensure that he’s getting fresh, naturally grown ingredients from the area. In his own words “product is everything”, a philosophy that can be seen in his menus, which place a focus on hyper-local and foraged ingredients and contain a strong link to the Costa Rican tradition.
It’s for this reason that he’s found his current home in Guanacaste, a region which boasts a number of different edible plants and exotic fruits like dragon fruit, elderberry, chan, linden, gavilana, arnica, sour cane, lantana, saragundí, and guapinol, among many others. It’s also for this reason that he works hard to build relationships with local producers, like Don Miguel.
Don Miguel’s farm, located about an hour inland from the coast of Guanacaste, produces exclusively organic produce, a mission that Don Miguel has pursued after years working in the industry. Following the passing of his late wife, whose poor health Don Miguel attributes to the chemicals used in industry foods, he decided to launch an entirely organic farm, which now grows sweet pepper, turmeric, chamol, ginger, green beans, watermelon, cantaloupe, alongside livestock like cows, chicken and pigs. He also educates others on the underused elements of other popular products, like utilizing the root of the coriander plant or radish and cauliflower leaves, all ingredients that are usually discarded in the cooking process.
From his experience walking around Don Miguel’s farm, Briceño speaks to the continually eye-opening nature of getting out into the world and connecting with local suppliers. The farm is an area surrounded by mountains and rivers, where the simple life is valued, and nature feels full of life.
The temptation to use big industry providers shouldn’t be understated though. As Briceño explains, “the big distributors in the country propose that you buy their product at a super low price. On the other hand, when food is 100% organic, it produces excellent quality, but with higher prices and a smaller scale.”
To Briceño though, organic ultimately wins out. The value of the close connection to the source, and the combination of quality, purity, and unique flavors that are characteristic of local organic providers are irreplaceable to his cooking.
“Walking around the estate for me is a moment of disconnection/connection, which is a source of super important inspiration. It’s the beginning of the creative process where the dishes start to take shape in my head before bringing these ingredients to the kitchen. It is a place where you learn through stories and life lessons, and you absorb all of this knowledge.”
It’s something that Briceño wouldn’t trade for anything, and it’s why, if you find yourself eating at one of Briceño’s kitchens around Las Catalinas, you can be sure that you’re tasting the flavors of Guanacaste.
Take a look below for an in-depth look at Don Miguel’s farm.
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