Charlie Collins Cooking School
Chef Diana Temple, owner & founder of Diana's Creative Catering of Malibu, visited Charlie Collins Cooking School December 2009. Her photographer husband Brian, took all these great photos. Here's her report:
What a tremendous opportunity to come across a cooking class in Boquete. I booked the class not even knowing about the chef, Charlie Collins. As a caterer in California, the most interesting part of my business is learning new recipes from other countries. Not only does it expand your knowledge, but it is most fun to pick a place and find the FOOD!
Since we were thinking about Central America for a long time, I picked Panama for the many influences and for the tremendous array of resources. In three words, Fish, Coffee and Produce!
My excitement started upon checking into the Panamonte Inn in Boquete. Boquete is a small mountain town on the foothills of Volcan Baru, a dramatic mountain reaching 11,450 ft. in between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. So, I figured, I can tour through coffee farms and local restaurants while my husband hikes the National Park. Well, Brian hopped in on the cooking class and took the pictures I will treasure forever. The hotel is charming, the gardens a dream world all of their own, and the staff is genuinely friendly. David, the manager of the Panamonte was always there to help with anything we needed to feel well acquainted with the foreign town we just drove into.
Charlie Collins was born in Boquete. He is a so well regarded in Boquete, one for creating the very creative menu at the Panamonte, and two for his talent as a caterer in the fast rising and cosmopolitan Panama City. He is so busy, and he made the time to teach me a “private”, as his cooking class season was over. Thanks to Barbara at JB Journeys / Panama Boutique, we arranged a day on a gorgeous coffee farm just a five minute drive out of town in the middle of endless coffee plantations. Coffee is the name of the game here, but that is another story. Upon arriving at Charlie’s school/kitchen, I noticed that the room was so inviting, and not at all intimidating. It was a warm, colorful country home flawlessly designed to made you feel just that, at home.
Charlie introduced himself and guided me into his domain of fresh food, classic cookware and a separate dining area with a wood burning oven and hand hewn chopping block of epic proportion. I was fascinated. I think he was proud to show another chef his world, as my bubbling appreciation was evident. There was a counter with bar stools set in a class setting, but he invited me over to the prep area, knowing I would absorb more in a “hands on” environment. This is what he taught me that day.
We started with an incredible Corvina Ceviche with onion and fresh lime juice with a leaf similar to our cilantro, called Culantro. Then we made Shrimp in a wine sauce served over fried plantain and the third dish was a fried yucca with a sauce of onion, garlic and annatto. All served at the family table with a Chilean wine. He was such a surprisingly humble man, with eyes that twinkled over his glasses as he let me break apart the yucca and pound the plantain.
I wished the day would never end. It was this day I learned about the land of Panama, the broadness of the bounty it produces and the generosity of its people. He talked of the locavore diet and how Panama does this naturally by producing so much food, year round. He is extremely knowledgeable and I had to remember……………he had a wedding to cater the same day. My conversation with this man had to end. I reflected during the day how he so calmly said goodbye, having just minutes to catch a plane back to the city to cater one of the most stressful of events, a wedding. I will remember Chef Charlie Collins and his creativity to be the highlight of my whole trip to Panama. I am sure we will meet again.