Curious by nature and wild about cooking with exotic ingredients, I remember being intrigued and yes, somewhat disgusted, when I first saw some of the strange and bizarre-looking vegetables and fruits unique to tropical climates such as Panama, the country we now call home.
Shortly after moving to Panama we responded to a local “gourmet” restaurant’s invitation to a “Thanksgiving buffet” where they’d promised to serve an all-American traditional holiday feast. Not only were we enormously disappointed, but even shocked when we lined up for the buffet: Maraschino cocktail cherries instead of cranberries? Bone-dry turkey? Potato salad and no turkey “dressing”?
Other customers (mostly expats) were also visibly aghast and we had the great luck to be seated next to a couple who were equally appalled. We struck up a conversation, and that is how I met Cheryl Klein ~ who turned out to be an excellent cook, an enormously informed Panama resident of 30+ years, and the “chef” who taught our first “Culinary Adventures” at Finca La Maya last week.
On the morning of her culinary course, Cheryl appeared at our kitchen with her car full of buckets, trays, utensils and bowls, and already-prepared main course dishes.
I helped as she arranged platters with every vegetable and fruit I’d ever seen in Panama, and then some. When students arrived, we each received a folder of notes on local plants, produce, explanations and history, ingredients, preparation and recipes for nearly two dozen unique dishes, prepared with Panamanian ingredients.
Cheryl began with the vegetables and fruits themselves ~ named them, explained them, cut, cleaned, chopped and or prepared each one. It was like learning a completely new language – but visual – and all, in the end, were delicious and exciting new recipes to enrichen anyone cook’s repertoire of culinary delights.
Cheryl may agree to teach again, should others be interested in learning from her vast knowledge of truly local, truly unique Panamanian cuisine. With five people or more another session can be organized. Contact La Maya
FLM Culinary Adventure TWO
Swami is as unique and blessed in food preparation as he is in person. Swami lived and studied as a monk in India for eight years. We first met a few years ago, when he prepared an unforgettable feast for a local fundraiser for Panama’s indigenous groups. All recipes were vegetarian and heavily influenced by spices and ingredients used in India. Swami’s vegetarian dishes are the most delicious I’ve ever had the pleasure to enjoy during more than 40 years of study and practice of health-conscious, organic, and alternative nutrition by which I personally live and cook by.
Swami arrived with fellow-chef Autumn Rosita and with seemingly little effort and using surprising combinations of spices and ingredients, they spun out a fabulous and colorful feast fit for a Maharishi.
Rosita created an organic restaurant “Mucho Gusto!” in Costa Rica and is a lively participant in that community’s alternative living resources, indigenous educational activities, and connecting students with organizations interested in those pursuits.
Swami and Rosita hope to find a way to help the NASO Indians whose land is in jeopardy in the San San Druy area of Bocas del Toro. These delightful and original culinary talents can be reached on Facebook “Mucho Gusto group” and “Panama Maharaja” or
Contact Finca La Maya for interest in more Culinary Adventures or catering needs.