Upgrading our Restaurant Menus to More Local and Reducing Carbon Footprint

Sustainability is a process, it is never finished. It is like Quality Management and there are always details that can be improved and made better. 

Our guests are getting more and more curious about the sourcing of our food, and it is not just about taste and freshness. They want to know who produces their food and how it impacts the environment.  Reducing food waste and lowering carbon footprint has also been a big concern. 

One of our new menu items. Caribbean Coconut Chicken with a Plantain Ceviche and Heart of Palm.

So, when we started to revamp our menus in preparation for the next high season, we did not only want to make an upgrade in the quality, taste, and sophistication of our recipes and dishes, but also in terms of sustainability. We continue to shed less sustainable practices and follow the path of other visionaries such as Michelin 3-star Chef Daniel Humm

“We have always operated with sensitivity to the impact we have on our surroundings, but it was becoming ever clearer that the current food system is simply not sustainable, in so many ways. It was clear that after everything we all experienced this past year, we couldn’t open the same restaurant.” Daniel Humm’s 180-degree shift in his restaurant led him to create an iconic vegan menu. 

While we are not quite ready to go all the way vegan, we have significantly increased the number and sophistication of our vegetarian and vegan dishes.  Many of our guests comment on the great variety of gluten-free, vegetarian, and vegan options on our menus. 

Below you will find a variety of actions taken recently to upgrade our menus while making them more local, sustainable, and climate-friendly. 

Sourcing locally

All proteins (fish, meat, poultry), as well as vegetables and fruits, have been locally sourced ever since we started operations almost 15 years ago. However, every so often we dig a bit deeper and review the products that we use to prepare our dishes at our Mirador and Playitas restaurants, and every time we find ways to go even more local.  After the recent changes that we implemented, over 90% of the food that we serve is sourced locally. Exceptions are items such as olive oil, vinegar, and spices as well as wheat flour for baking and making pasta.

Beachfront Lunch at Playitas Restaurant at Arenas del Mar, Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica.

Like many other restaurants around the world, we used Coco Lopez Coconut Cream for preparing cocktails and seafood dishes.  But we realized that this product is imported from Puerto Rico and with all the coconut trees that we have around us, it didn’t make sense to keep using this product. The only issue is that there was no local supplier available…

“A few months ago, we started to work with a company from Paquita, located about 30 minutes from Arenas del Mar to help us create the perfect coconut cream. Today, this company commercializes this product for us and many other businesses around”, explains Alejandro Narváez, Food and Beverage Director at Arenas Del Mar.

We also eliminated sushi rice imported from Asia and are using locally harvested Costa Rican rice instead. You can observe the rice fields on the side of the road when you drive to Arenas del Mar from the San Jose Airport. 

We replaced the rice for this dish with local rice from Costa Rica. Same great taste but less carbon footprint.

While we all love the taste of parmesan cheese, it is better consumed in Italy than in Costa Rica due to its carbon footprint. So, we were very happy to find a cheesemaker in the Bagaces region of Costa Rica that crafts a similar type of cheese that is dried in seawater.  It works as well for our pasta dishes as does the imported product. 

Our wines are another good example of going as “local as possible”. Costa Rica does not produce quality wines, but our guests very much appreciate a glass or two with dinner.  So, we went “almost local” in the way that at Arenas del Mar and all the Cayuga Collection Hotels, we only serve Latin American wines.  Mostly from Chile and Argentina but in the past years, we added high-quality wines from Mexico (Baja California), Peru, and Uruguay. 

Local Culture and Traditional Products

There are traditional food items in cultures that are in danger of extinction.  Arenas del Mar has decided to promote local culture and heritage through food.  We incorporated the traditional “tapa dulce” which is raw unrefined cane sugar in some of our cocktails and deserts.  You will immediately notice the difference compared to refined white sugar. 

We also stress the use of local root vegetables such as yucca, malanga, sweet potato, and most recently tacaco in our dishes. The pejibaye fruit that grows on a palm tree is a local favorite consumed as a hearty snack best with a cold beer, and we use it in soups and salads.  Our wait staff is happy to bring out the raw products, so you see what they looked like before they ended up on your plate.

Curious about a fruit or vegetable that you don’t know. Ask our wait staff. They will be happy to explain.

Avoiding Food Waste

Too much food waste is produced every day around the world.  At Arenas del Mar, we don’t serve buffet-style meals.  We also keep servings ‘reasonable’ but if a guest is still hungry, we are happy to serve more.  It is our goal that all our guests “clear their plates” because the food is so delicious but if any scraps are left, they will be fed to the pigs of a local farmer. 

Recently, we found that we can reduce waste by offering a delicious treat to our guests, ideal for the tropical temperatures in Costa Rica. Coconut, mango, banana, blackberry, passion fruit, gooseberry, pineapple, strawberry, mangosteen, tree tomato, jocote, zapote, nance, papaya amongst many more… 

What is your favorite flavor? Sorbet and ice cream flavors of Arenas del Mar.

At Arenas Del Mar, there are no limits when it comes to churning ice cream.  Whatever is on-site, local, and readily available will be made into ice cream. This is an ingenious way of upcycling food.  Leftover chocolate cake? Turned into ice cream. Ripe fruits? The perfect sugary & sweet balance for a sorbet.

We offer over 15 flavors of sorbets and ice creams at a time. Each week, the team tests out new flavors and tries out new recipes. On your next visit, step up for a culinary adventure and ask for “what’s new”.

Sustainable Seafood

We have been working on the concept of Dock to Dish for almost 10 years now at the Cayuga Collection Hotels. It is all about Community Supported Fisheries and promoting a positive relationship between fishermen, consumers, and the ocean by providing high-quality, locally caught seafood to the hotels. Projects like Dock to Dish help ecosystems recover from the effects of overfishing while maintaining a thriving fishing community.

You will notice that we don’t specify the fish species that are served on our menu. That allows us to be sustainable on the one hand as well as always serving the freshest seasonal fish and seafood.

More recently, we also started to work with a local Costa Rican organization called Mercado del Mar that supports 20 vulnerable fishing communities on the different coasts of Costa Rica. The idea is that we don’t offer a specific fish species on our menu but rather a “catch of the day” option so that we can always serve the freshest available species that was caught by our local supplier that day.

Another local item that we added recently to our menu is the Piangua, or also known as “Black Clam”.  It is not commonly found on restaurant menus although it is quite a delicacy. The main reason is that it is hard to harvest as the mollusk lives in swampy mangrove floors surrounded by thorny plants and insects.  Besides the great taste, we also decided to add the black clams to our menus as it supports groups of local women that harvest them.  We make sure we pay fair prices as many times their hard work is undervalued. 

Going ultra-local at Arenas del Mar has shown us how our everyday decisions can create positive impacts in the supply chains and make a real difference.  Our food philosophy at Arenas del Mar and Cayuga is a clear reflection of our commitment to sustainable practices in the hospitality industry.  Please join us

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