Hello and good day!
Please take a look at the photo.
The gentleman in the photo is Don Fortunato Colala, the person our company is named after.
He is squatting down next to a big cauldron of boiling sugar cane juice. Behind Don Fortunato, out of frame, there is a rudimentary sugar cane grinder. To power the grinder, Fortunato harnesses a horse to a chain that is connected to a horizontally placed wheel. The horse walks in circles around the grinding mechanism while Fortunato feeds sugar cane stalks into a small mill in the center of the wheel. There is a thin underground pipe that runs from the mill to the cauldron.
As the grinder crushes stalks, a river of sugar cane juice trickles downhill, through the pipe, into a hole that has been bored into the side of the big metal pot. There is a clay lined firepit underneath the pot for burning wood.
After the cane juice has boiled for a couple of hours, and sufficient liquid has evaporated off, the bubbling juice thickens and turns golden brown. If the liquid is poured into molds and left to cool, it will harden into what is called chancaca in Peru. You may know it as panela.
Don Fortunato is using the boiled juice to make a traditional Peruvian dessert called Quesillo Con Miel, fresh cheese with sugar syrup. For a Peruvian living in a city to make this dish, they'd have to go to the store and buy the cheese and they'd likely buy a bottle of prepared miel as well.
They could buy a block of chancaca and melt it down, but they probably wouldn't. It would be easier to buy a bottle of pre-melted syrup. As an aside, you can buy panela in the store and melt it down to make your own miel if you are so inclined. The resulting syrup will be full of molasses and delicious.
On the occasion when this photo was taken, we had several very well-known culinary professionals with us. They wanted to come out and see our operation. The cheese in the plate was made fresh, out on the farm, by Fortunato's wife Elena. Of course, the syrup couldn't be any fresher. Our guests were blown away by the dish.
The fresh cheese melted under the heat of the syrup. The mixture of molasses and dairy and the texture of the soft melted cheese combining with the thickness of the evaporated sugar cane syrup was something new for their palates.
And naturally, they couldn't help but reflect on the environment in which they'd been served this exquisite dish. They were standing on a working cacao and coffee farm.
The fellow preparing the dish had on open toed leather sandals. His toenails were brown and dirty from tromping through mud and soil every day of his life. His shirt was stained. His hat was sweat marked.
Other than the sugar cane, the farm smelled like animals and manure and decomposing organic material, rotting cacao pods, leaves, and fruit husks Mosquitos landed on shoulders and attempted to suck blood from necks. It was authentically rustic. Not the curated rustic you are sometimes told about on a bag of packaged bread.
Cows mooed long and loud in the distance. Goats bleated. And the food was as good as food can be. The chefs said it was one of the highlights of their eating lives up to that point.
This begs the question. What is needed to make great food?
A place like Fortunato's farm is an excellent test case. There is no fancy equipment out there. Almost everything is cooked over wood burning fires. So, you can throw away technology. Nobody went to culinary school. Throw away technical training. There aren't any cookbooks.
We can all agree that cookbooks are very helpful for learning new recipes, but given our test case, they aren't strictly necessary.
What's left? Only a few things. Really good ingredients. Lots of experience and practice. Great care.
Fortunato's family loves to eat. They love hosting visitors. They have access to lovely, fresh ingredients all around them. With those three elements, you can layer on technology, training, and a multitude of additional recipes. But without those elements, the food will be bland and soulless.
I remember an American friend of mine who invited me over for dinner once. He lived in a big, beautiful house in a swank neighborhood. He was, and still is, one of the nicest and sweetest people I know.
But his passion isn't cooking. Its sports. He coaches his kids' sporting teams. He works in sports marketing. For whatever reason, he went on a brief cooking kick. He invested in a Viking range with an indoor grill and a Sous Vide. He signed up with a premium mail order beef and lobster service. We came over one evening and he had steaks in the Sous Vide and lobsters boiling.
He was in front of the TV watching football and went over to poke at the food every once in a while. He threw the steak and lobster tails on the grill to finish them. His wife set a lovely table. We sat down to eat and after the first bite, we all looked up at each other. We shook our heads and laughed. The meat was tender from the Sous Vide, but that was about all the good we could say for it.
My buddy went back into the kitchen and brought out barbeque sauce and melted about five times his original allotment of butter for the lobster tails.He sold the Sous Vide, and the Viking grill didn't get much action after that.
But the sports teams he coached did well.
Great food, and great anything really, requires care and experience above all else. This means finding something that you are passionate about so that you'll be willing to spend the necessary time to master it.
Throwing technology at a creative endeavor is rarely the solution.
I have to share one last thing.
We've been using hot chocolate machines in our shops that break down after a year and a half. We are just now learning that. As such, one of our shops has been without a machine for the last couple of days. We've been worried and scrambling to find a replacement.
But then it occurred to us. We've already done the leg work to make a great mix. We use water for the liquid. People make our hot chocolate at home all the time. All we need is hot water, not a fancy machine.
Technology speeds things when making hot chocolate, but it doesn't determine the quality. As long as we can boil water, we're fine. A simple electric water boiler will do the trick for now and the hot chocolate will be as good as ever.
Thank you so much for your time today.
I hope that you have a truly blessed day!
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