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Puerto Vallarta News NetworkEntertainment | Restaurants & Dining | October 2009 

Everything Food With Seth: The Zen of Chopping & Dicing
email this pageprint this pageemail usSeth Cloutman - PVNN
October 07, 2009

Here in Vallarta shopping can be the most frustrating aspect of preparing a meal. I often have to go to several places before finding one item that's fresh enough to get into one of my pots.
Recently I was introduced to a woman and the inevitable question came: "What do you do in Vallarta?" "I am a private chef and caterer," I responded.

While we chefs are pretty popular folks, and it is unclear if this is because people immediately respond to the comforts of food and just think we are fun, many have images of us standing in a kitchen filled with stainless steel equipment, copper pots hanging from the ceiling, in white coats filling big pots with culinary elixirs, putting together plates that are worthy of royalty and whisking out to the dining room with head held high to receive the praises of our guests. The truth is a lot less glamorous.

Our conversation continued and her jaw nearly dropped when I responded to her question "How many people worked with you in your kitchen?" "Usually none." "None!?" "No, I usually do everything myself." She did not quite know what to make of this.

She proffered another question: "What do you do when you have a cocktail party for 100?" I replied, "chop, dice, sauté, poach, roast, etc." And it's true, I prefer to be in the kitchen alone doing everything myself. Who else is going to chop the celery, carrots and onions for the mire poix exactly the way I want it?

My kitchen has large windows on two walls and looks out over the Bay and downtown. While standing at the prep table I often look out and wonder how life got to be so incredible. And as I peel vegetables, butcher meats, filet fish or actually do the cooking I never think of having a horde of assistants around me.

Many people do not like to cook because it is too much work. I see a meal as an evolution with distinct parts to the event. The first is the menu development. This is usually done with a client and it is such an energizing step. The creativity begins to flow and idea after idea pop into the head and the more you think about it the more inspired a dish becomes.

The next step is the shopping. Here in Vallarta that can be the most frustrating and difficult aspect. Often times it is necessary to go to innumerable locations to find one item. I could just call delivery services for products, but with meat and fish and vegetables I need to touch, smell and see what I am getting. It has to be the freshest, the best in order to get into one of my pots.

Then there is one of the most therapeutic parts of the process. The prep. Anyone that has been in one of my cooking classes knows about my "stock pile." This is a bag which all the veggie ends and trimmings are put into so that they end up flavoring the stocks I am always making.

But standing there mincing and dicing, peeling and chopping, is one of the most wonderful and contemplative times for me. I love the entire process and while many people would be only too glad to have someone else do the job, this chef finds it so Zen.

Finally the cooking begins. The aromas begin to fill the kitchen and make their way out into the house. The tasting and adjusting of flavors and seasonings is constant and it is almost as if you have become the mad scientist - but instead of petrie dishes and tubes, the vessels are pots, pans, trays and more. The anticipation of what is to come pushes you on further and further.

Then we come to the plating and serving. There is nothing better in my mind to having a beautiful plate of delicious food in front of you. It says that you, who are receiving the dish, are so important that not only is the food going to knock your socks off but that the preparer took the time to make sure it was elegant and beautiful as well. Then you watch for the reaction. I can think of nothing so satisfying than to see the faces of diners after the first bite or two transform into bliss.

Finally there is the clean up. And while I do have help with this at events, when we are entertaining here at home for friends, the final step is precious to me as well. Standing back in the kitchen, looking down over the lights of Vallarta and the Bay, while washing the dishes is the closing Zen moment. It is a time to reflect on the meal, the conversation, think about the flavors and what you would change the next time. And the next day, the process begins all over again and thank god, says this chef, for that.

Seth Cloutman is the owner of Food by Seth, which provides services as a private chef, caterer and cooking class instructor. Specializing in French cuisine, Chef Seth develops menus that use these traditional techniques to include a broader cooking style that includes Northern Italian, Spanish, American Regional and Mediterranean cuisines. Full rich flavors, beautiful presentation and freshness coupled with experienced staff and attention to all the details will make your dining experience memorable. For more information, call 044-322-131-8808 or visit

Click HERE for more articles by Seth Cloutman

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