Is it a board game? A box of chocolates? A science experiment? From the culinary schools of France, from the plantations and gardens of Costa Rica, and, mostly, from 27-year-old chef Camille Ratton comes a spiral-bound cookbook in a cardboard box.
Below the cookbook are five little bags of spices and a cork-topped test tube encasing a 15-centimeter vanilla bean.
Ratton’s latest creation, “Cookbook –Cocina Creativa,” consists of 23 of her recipes in Spanish and English, along with the smells and flavors of gourmet peppercorns, cinnamon bark, a blend of green herbs (rosemary and thyme), multicolored sesame seeds, a bit of coffee and some locally grown vanilla.
Readers get a chance to use these to make two breads, 10 appetizers (five cold, five warm), five main courses and six desserts.
For example, with the vanilla – did I mention it comes in a test tube? – you can make a “pound cake with wild vanilla syrup,” “espresso crème brûlée” or “grilled red snapper on white risotto and wild vanilla sauce.”
A few other recipes, including a lightly fried tuna, call for vanilla extract. (With this one you also get to use soy sauce, as well as the white and black sesame seeds.)
After studying and working in several fine culinary institutions in France, Ratton opened her own restaurant, Bakea, in 2003, in San José’s north-side Barrio Amón (TT, Aug. 15, 2003).Her restaurant and her cookbook have French, Mediterranean and Asian influences, with a touch of Costa Rica, she said. Though Bakea’s constantly changing menu is similarly artistic, Ratton’s cookbook is an independent outlet of her own creativity, she said.
In the cookbook, “sweet” or “savory” flavorings don’t fall automatically into traditional categories of food. The “chocolate truffles in tempura over sautéed strawberries with balsamic vinegar” call for orange zest, cloves, cinnamon, anise, peppercorns, cream, beer, butter, vanilla and lemon juice.
Some required ingredients might be foreign to the Costa Rican corner store (anise liquor? phyllo dough? pistachio puree? Calamari taglierini nests?), but all of them are available in the country, be it at AutoMercado or a specialty Chinese store, Ratton said.
The fanciest entrées, by length of recipe, are “beef medallion over polenta with merlot and wild mushroom sauce,” “rose trout with maple syrup and red peppercorn glaze over citrus aroma potato puree” and the aforementioned red snapper. On the other end, Ratton includes several appetizers with little more than a paragraph of instruction: “crusty camembert (cheese) with grapes and nuts,” “carrot soup with Pernod,” and “colored goat-cheese balls.”
The bread section looks warm, golden brown, simple and comforting. The English pages have a couple of grammatical errors, but nothing serious enough to ruin a meal. Spanish and English versions are on opposing pages (in the style of a desk calendar), which is a great setup if you’re working on the same recipe across from someone who reads the other language (in the style of the game Battleship). Excepting this scenario, an English reader could be frustrated by having to flip through the pages backwards to follow the sequence of the table of contents.
Ratton said she’s long felt “restlessness to investigate deeper into the visual part of the dishes.” This means many of the foods look like little sculptures – each recipe comes to life in a color photo by The Tico Times’ own Mónica Quesada.
“Food is an experience of all the senses,” Ratton said.
With fewer than 25 recipes, “Cookbook – Cocina Creativa” is more an artistic offering than a set of comprehensive instructions. It is also a testament that seeks to push Costa Rican cuisine beyond gallo pinto, olla de carne and arroz con pollo.
“Cookbook – Cocina Creativa” is available for $60 at airport gift shops and at Bakea (three blocks north of Parque Morazán on Calle 7 at Avenida 11; 248-0303).