Monday, December 13, 2010

one if by land, two if by sea...

On my recent trip back to the US, I realized that I had never really before explained some of the interesting logistics of running a kitchen on an island on Lake Nicaragua.

Hmmm... a big one is limited supplies, planning ahead: for example, we run the range on propane tanks which are monitored based on guest count as well as days passed... it takes about 4 days advanced notice to replace the tanks. I've had a very healthy staff, but if someone goes home sick, it is not as simple as calling a replacement to run in. It involves organizing a taxi to the port & coordinating a boat to come and receive the employee. I bet there are more, but I might be accustomed to them by now, I've forgotten.

Now, I will explain the odyssey it takes to get food out to an island resort in Nicaragua.

detailed schedule of inventory, providers, etc.
 Every Monday I place orders and send a copy of each to reception in the Marina so the receptionist knows what is coming, when, and can check our received goods against what actually arrives. If there is no power in the port (we have a generator on the island), I print the orders out and deliver them with the next boat.

 The easy stuff, actually, is proteins. Fisherman stop by to sells freshly caught guapote and mojarra. We also have a weekly drop off with scaled, gutted fish from a friend of the head of maintenance. I order Pellibüe, the shorn sheep, butchered into primal cuts. This is a verbal order when I see Don Leonel, the marina boat tour captain. I order 3 days in advance and pay in cash. He gets the animal from his neighbor on Zapatera island and then drops it by the staff dock on his way to work at the port. I now give him a cooler with ice as well. The first time he dropped off a freshly butchered animal, still warm, I couldn't stomach butchering it. The freshest I've had, but I do like to handle my meat when it is cold, not body temp.
 I place orders for most dry goods through email, which is great. I have different vendors for bulk, organic, fancy products. The companies that email are easy to understand, reliable and consistent. For the most part, obviously. They drop their goods off in our marina office during office hours, the goods (hopefully) get checked against my order sheet and the receipt, and then sent out to the island with the next boat.
 Dairy: 2 days a week with the first boat leaving the island we send a cooler of ice for the chicken, dairy, beef or herbs that come to the port.
eggs: we've had very few broken eggs. I am so grateful for this. bread gets smushed, so we order shorter baguettes that can fit into the plastic bins.

Twice a week I order goods from the market, as well as include a list to the local grocery store. After a few months, we had desired products down pat, and our taxistas (a husband and wife team) are doing a fabulous job of substituting or omitting items if the first choice was not available. Rice and beans come from the market, not a bulk provider, because "why would we sell rice and beans when you can just get them from the market?" It nice and frustrating to work in a society of content & little competition.

 For produce from the market, Doña Modesta can be reached at one of 3-4 phone numbers. Modesta doesn't have her own phone, so I call all of her friends and family to see if they are nearby to her. Her son will take the order if he picks up, which takes half the time. Quick tip: ask for a half dozen (media docena) each/pounds of an item, because seis and tres (or, in Nica, with no S: sei y tre) are just too similar to the ear, especially the 80? year old ear of my produce vendor, Doña Modesta. Once it is ordered, I confirm with the taxista, and it is picked up, checked and delivered to the port with the next day's afternoon staff!

 Managua: twice a month we send a taxi to the country's capital for Organic Grains, Dried Fruits, Domestic Salamis, Cheeses from the north of the country, and a run to "PriceSmart" (like Costco, complete with chicken bakes!). This involves preordering products 7 days in advance and coordinating a good day with the taxista, who will keep the products cold in his fridge if he can't get back to the port before our last boat.

 Just like in the US, sometimes things don't arrive, or arrive in not so awesome condition, I talk to the chain (vendor, taxista, receptionist, boat driver, kitchen staff who unloads), and we do better the next time.
 this process also involves cash from the accountant, credit slips, facturas; a jumble of finances that would be a blog in itself. but like most of my experiences here in Nicaragua, somehow, it works.

all in a day's work.

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