Circa 2015, I met a rare looking male bird, Mico Eagle Feathers, a man with odd rings in his ears and a mohawk hairdo. He had traveled many roads to get to where he was. Our meeting led to a discussion about my health issues. At the time, he was climbing to an elevated and rarified level of cuisine –- health through food.
He recommended that I read a book on detox by a Dr Robert Morse and then proceeded to direct me to cleansing myself. During that time, I was fascinated watching him turn various edible plants into creations not only of beauty, but mouthwatering delights.
My 31-day fast fixed my health issues for at least a year.
Culinary Alchemy, his new open kitchen on the Pacific side of Costa Rica, is not just a typical fine dining restaurant. Eating there is a spiritual experience and enlightenment that opens the door to a healthier way of life. Mico is a native of Colorado in the US, and his last restaurant was the spectacularly successful and renowned Oasis, in Cuenca, Ecuador.
Mico makes me want to completely change my way of life, to sustain my well-being through food.
Annie Lulu is his life and business partner and Chef du cuisine of the highly crafted desserts focused around Costa Rican Cacao. She is also your guide throughout your dining experience, and very actively involved in creating a masterpiece of art for nearly all of the dishes.
Before arriving at this magical food emporium, one must start by making a reservation and completing a questionnaire, listing a set of rules (the restaurant’s) and personal sensitivities (yours). Here is a link to the etiquette page https://theculinaryalchemists.com/etiquette/ which you are required to sign, and without which you will not receive a confirmation.
The ceremony — as it is referred to, does not follow any comfort food expectations, and begins when you reserve a seat at the Culinary Alchemists table.
At the table, personalized place cards show your seat assignment, with a riddle on a sheet of paper where your first plate will appear. You are prompted not to try to solve the riddle until the end of the meal, without using the internet for the answer, but only by conferring with those sitting at the table. The riddle helps unite the group to interact with each other.
Mico and Annie come out of the kitchen and introduce themselves and address each guest.
At the beginning of the ceremony (which typically lasts 3 to 4 hours), depending on the number of attendees, there is an ancient ritual performed to cleanse. It’s called smudging. Smoke is created from burning medicinal or sacred plants. This is an integral part of many cultures and religions the world over, and In North America is a practice common to Indigenous people.
It is traditionally for purifying or cleansing the soul of negative thoughts of a person, or place. The four elements in a smudge are considered sacred plants (cedar, sage, sweetgrass and tobacco). Plant leaves or stems are placed in a container and ignited — best with a wooden match. The flames are then gently blown out and the smoke, which is meant to heal the mind, heart and body, is wafted over each person, either by hand or with an eagle feather.
This is akin to attending a very organized indigenous meal combined with a ritual to connect you to yourself, the group to each other and everyone to the food. And it was very clear to me there was a deep rooted understanding of food combining and healing.
A Ceremony with The Culinary Alchemists lasts 3-4 hours. There are 12-15 compositions, including the drinks. This is not a restaurant where you go to just eat. It’s about slowing down, taking your time and sharing an experience with mindfulness and gratitude for the abundance that nature provides us.
Chef Annie facilitates the ceremony and reminds us to be present in the moment and to experience the evening with all our senses. Once all the guests arrived, we were served a welcome drink, a frozen mocktail, pineapple cardamom on the bottom and strawberry anise on the top, in a glass rimmed with dried raspberry.
To begin the ceremony, Annie guided us through a short breathing meditation, the purpose of which is to balance the energy of the group — including the chefs — to let go of all the stress and anything that happened during the day and prepare everyone for what’s about to come.
What followed was an stunning array of artfully crafted plates, each explained by the chefs when served.
The first was a molecular “egg” amuse-bouche; a smoked carrot sphere “yolk” nestled in a sweet coconut ginger foam “white”. It’s a mind game, the chefs explain, your eyes see something that looks like a miniature egg, your brain thinks egg, but when you take it into your mouth and bite into the sphere, it explodes with flavors that don’t match what you see.
Another composition was the “Savory Florets”. Thin strips of potato and broccoli stem painstakingly layered, rolled up and baked with vegan garlic butter and herbs. It was served with a vegan saffron almond aioli and vegan cream cheese made with caramelized onions, fennel and garlic.
The main savory composition of the evening was a colorful triple-layered Timbal served in a pickled portobello mushroom. Each component on its own was amazing with complex flavor — together it was magical with contrasts that lit up your mouth. The bottom layer was a tomato date tartare. The middle was fresh heart of palm with a macadamia dill cream and the top was a lightly spiced mixture of avocado and mango. It was served in rich basil oil and garnished with a grain-free, leaf-shaped tuille (a baked wafer).
In preparation for the sweet compositions about to come, we were served an Italian style shaved ice made with fresh rosemary and ginger, a perfect palate cleanser.
The first dessert was a colorful, rich, two-layer raw vegan cheesecake. Blueberry on the bottom and passion fruit on the top with a nutty base. A beautiful combination, the slightly sour passion fruit and the sweet blueberries complement each other perfectly.
The magic kept coming as Annie guided us through a 3-part mini cacao ceremony (part of it with blindfolds — this really isn’t the Olive Garden…) We were dazzled with homemade chocolate bonbons, a ceremonial cacao drink and a final dessert plate that was simply over the top, with a hazelnut cream chocolate cup, Mexican wedding cookie, truffle, sweet potato brownie and vegan meringue.
The creativity and attention to detail is apparent in every aspect of this amazing ceremony/meal. There are other magical components that I won’t share here so as not to spoil the surprises for future guests. At the end, Mico and Annie come out and close the circle with an herbal digestif and answer questions and interact with the guests.
This is a truly unique dining experience that deserves to be savored and stays with you long after it’s over.
Culinary Alchemy is situated about one & a half hours from the Liberia airport, very close to the Pacific coast, between Langosta and Playa Flamingo, about 20 minutes from either of those beautiful ocean destinations. It is nearly impossible to find without a GPS. And Mico will not provide you with trip markers until your reservation has been confirmed! (What can we say? The man’s a genius and a healer, even if a bit eccentric.)
In Mico’s experience, he finds there are more guests that are carnivores looking for a new experience. As such he presents about a dozen courses of only plant based dishes that will surely not leave carnivores hungry. There are no meat alternatives. But this is a meal you will never, ever forget. And perhaps never equal.