Arenas del Mar Kitchen

Introducing the Culture of “Owning Knives” in Ecolodge Kitchens

During culinary training, beginning students are issued a set of knives along with their aprons. They are taught the different grips, uses and techniques. They are taught to mark their own knives, either by engraving their names in the handles or labeling them with colored tape.

Many chefs throughout their careers don’t let anybody else touch their knives.  They become the sacred tool of every culinary professional.  The relations ship between a chef and their knives is almost similar to that of a samurai in the sense that hey use blades as an extension of themselves.

The story is quite different at most eco lodges and small sustainable boutique hotels across the world as you will find very few formally trained chefs in their kitchens.   The Cayuga Collection kitchens  in Costa Rica and Nicaragua were no exception.  Standard knives were provided by the hotel and shared among the staff.

Arenas del Mar Kitchen
Jorge Arrieta, the General Manager of Arenas del Mar Beachfront and Rain Forest Resort in Manuel Antonio with his proud kitchen team showing off the new knives.

A few months ago, we decided to change this culture.  Only a handful of our chefs and cooks at our lodges have received any formal culinary training.  Most of them were taught on the job and are following guidelines that were designed by Cayuga’s culinary expert team.   In the Cayuga Hotel kitchens, a knife had the same status as a soup ladle, cutting board or frying pan.  Every professionally trained chef know that this was not a good situation.

We decided that we wanted our chefs to own their own high quality knives and create a culture of pride around being a chef.  No matter if they had received formal culinary training or not.  We started negotiations with a local distributor of knives and were able to get a 20% discount for all of our staff members.  It was important that each kitchen staff member would buy his or her own knives, but since it was a big investment of about $180, we gave them the opportunity to finance it, so that small deductions would be made from their salaries in the next months.

Lapa Rios Kitchen
Lapa Rios Eco Lodge Food & Beverage Manager Johnny is about to hand out the new knives to his team.

The results of this initiative haven overwhelmingly positive.  Although, some staff members found the investment expensive at first, now that they are working with the new tools, they think it was the right decision and could not imagine to go back to the old knives.  Some even are thinking of buying additional specialty knives in the next months.  Motivation went up as it is such a pleasure for them to work with professional knives.

Harmony Hotel Nosara Kitchen STaff
Two local chefs at the Harmony Hotel in Nosara working with the new knives. It is much easier to cut raw fish for sushi or ceviche now.

Marijke, the General Manager of Lapa Rios Ecolodge reports:  “In a culture in which men normally are not found in the kitchen, we now have proud cooks of their own personal knives. Upon receiving their set, they mentioned how important it is to have good tools to work with, and its impossible to buy this quality here on the Osa Peninsula.

As the culinary experience becomes a more and more important part of our guest’s experience at our Sustainable Luxury Hotels, Resorts and Ecolodges, we will continue to invest in training and equipment of our culinary staff.   We are committed to provide professional development opportunities especially in culinary arts for members of the local communities where we operate.

Kitchen Staff at Kura Design Villas
One of the local chefs at Kura Design Villas in Uvita, Costa Rica proudly displays her new knives.

One response to “Introducing the Culture of “Owning Knives” in Ecolodge Kitchens”

  1. You guys never cease to amaze me. It’s the little but important things that make a huge difference. Pride in one’s job and tools is crucial. As a culinary school grad I have a knife collection but of course, I also have a favorite knife — and it’s not even the most expensive one!

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