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A Healthy Delicious Life: Caliche Alfaro

Posted by on Sep 26, 2013 in A Healthy Delicious Life | No Comments

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Andrea here.

Even before I became a nutritionist, I’ve thought a lot about health and have wondered, a) what makes people healthy, and b) what makes people happy?

I’ve always been inspired by the surfing culture and how effortless being healthy is in that world. In cities, those of us who have a fascination with health and food are kind of viewed as mason jar toting freaks. But in the surf culture, having an interest in what you put in your body seems to be innate, and actually pretty cool. Ditto in many places in Europe, where eating simple, healthy food is just the way it is. I’m all about health food stores and all, but what I’m really interested in is that easygoing and effortless approach to health.

And so, my question is this:

HOW CAN WE CAPTURE SOME OF THAT APPROACH TO HEALTH WHEN WE LIVE IN CITIES?

I’m so proud to present to you the first interview in a series. Each month, tune back here for another interview with an inspiring person leading a healthy and delicious life. However that looks.

Meet Caliche, whom I met in Costa Rica when I was visiting a few years ago. My surfing instructor, Carlos, introduced us and we became fast friends. Caliche owns Wishbone, a super successful restaurant in downtown Jaco that is an institution of sorts for surfers and travellers… and his tuna poke dish is something I still dream about. At 51 years old, he’s got more energy than most of us and – more than anyone I’ve ever met – Caliche fully embodies the pura vida, the Costa Rican saying meaning pure life.

I caught up with Caliche on his day off. He was home from surfing and sitting out on his patio, relaxing and taking in his amazing view of the Pacific ocean.

Andrea: Caliche, your life is amazing. You’ve got a fantastic, busy restaurant and you also seem to find time to surf every day. How can we all have your life?!

Caliche: [Laughs.] That’s funny. You maybe need to leave where you live. Come out here and do the same thing! My life is amazing because I made it how I wanted it to be… lots of fun. Food and surfing and sex are all awesome.

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The view from Caliche’s house where you can see all the way across the Pacific to Montezuma.

A: Do you have a specific way that you eat? Some people would describe themselves as vegetarians, vegans, or the new one is paleo, plant-based, whatever. Do you define how you eat?

C: I don’t eat red meat or pork. I have some chicken once in awhile, and I eat a lot of fish. I like a lot of fish, but sometimes I just eat steamed veggies, like a squash, or whatever I can find fresh. Eating just veggies makes me happy, too. I’m happy with simple food.

A: And that’s how you cook at the restaurant.

C: Yeah, simple food. And lately I’ve been steaming things at home. I try to eat with conscience. I try to think about how much I’m eating, what I’m eating.

I like to eat a few small meals throughout the day. A few almonds, a banana for breakfast, and sometimes toast and eggs. But I never eat too much, I never feel like I overdid it and I’m always a little hungry. Maybe because I’m old and want to keep my energy up…? Food can make you feel energized or it can make you feel super tired.

A: That’s a good way to do it for sure. And something that many of us struggle with, the moderation and consciousness, as you put it. How long have you been health conscious?

I think most of my life. I started surfing when I was around 16. We’d go camping and have just fruit for breakfast before surfing, maybe half a melon with almonds and bananas and that was our breakfast and then we’d go surfing. I’ve been pretty conscious [about my health] for most of my life.

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Caliche surfing at Playa Hermosa, Costa Rica

A: What motivates you to do this for yourself?

C: I think my motivation is to feel good. And treat myself often. That’s what makes me feel awesome. I’m conscious about what I put in my body and I eat good things. I imagine the flavours that I want to eat, and go home and cook whatever it was that I was thinking about. And it’s still healthy.

It also depends where you live. If you live in a big city like London or New York, there is every kind of food available to you. Living here in Costa Rica, the food is more simple. You can easily eat simple, healthy, fresh food.

I don’t like fried things. I don’t like sodas. I love tequila. It’s a good thing. Actually I have a recipe where I put a nice Patron tequila on the rocks, squeeze some lime, coarse sea salt and a little drop of Tabasco. Sometimes you get a sip with the tequila and a little crunchy piece of salt and you get the spice… It’s a nice drink. You should try it, or you should come here and I’ll make you one.

A: Yum. That sounds delicious! I love that there’s no sugar.

C: Exactly. Sugar is the biggest drug in the world. We’re addicted to sugar.

A: I remember that you looked really healthy. I haven’t seen you in awhile!

C: I barely get sick, I barely get colds. And it’s funny because people ask me where I get my iron because I don’t eat red meat. And that’s a good question because I haven’t had red meat for 20 years or so and I don’t miss it. I have tried eating a little bit of red meat and I hate the taste. And I feel like avoiding meat is so much better for our stomachs! It’s just so heavy.

It’s easier to cook simply, without meat. You don’t have to spend a lot of time cooking. You steam some veggies, and have some cous cous or rice or salad and it’s so simple.

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Caliche in Australia

A: So how do you wake up in the morning? Do you have any rituals? Do you listen to music? Do you have anything you do every single day?

C: First, I open my eyes. Ha! But really, I wake up and drink a big glass of water with a wedge of lime in it. I’ve been doing this for the last year and it feels so amazing in my stomach. I walk my dog for 20 or 30 minutes, then I go and surf and come back and walk her again. I barely eat in the morning. Sometimes I eat some almonds. I listen to some good music. I drink a bottle of water on the way to the ocean. I eat light things before surfing because I don’t want all my energy going to my stomach and I don’t want to feel heavy. I need to be able to paddle.

A: What do you eat/do for the rest of the day?

Well lately I’ve been surfing around 6 hours a day. I go in the morning, come back to Wishbone for lunch and head back to the ocean.

The way I eat is simple. For dinner, sometimes just a big bowl of steamed veggies, with a little bit of soy sauce and sriracha, cilantro, which is high in vitamin C, and I also drop a little olive oil on top. I love that and it can fill me up for the night. Or I have a salad, or maybe soup. I love soup. I like ceviche, too, so I mix it up so I don’t get bored.

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A: That’s smart. You’ve got to make it fun, too. Especially because you love to cook.

You know what? I try to be more like a vegetarian and people think that it’s boring. You can do amazing things with even just veggies and ginger. You can get creative. Do you eat everything?

A: Yeah, I usually do. I do eat meat sometimes but generally eat very healthfully when I’m at home. Every morning I have a green smoothie. I like to juice, too.

C: Green things are good for you! I like more green things than red. Greens have less sugar than red, which is still just natural sugars.

A: They’re the healthiest veggies out there.

C: I’ve been learning to have more patience in my life. So for the last three or four years, I’ve been working on myself.

When I sit down to eat I try to eat more slowly and savour the food. It’s really amazing because you eat less and enjoy food more. And sometimes you want to eat it all, it feels good to eat it all, but I always remind myself that I can have this same flavour tomorrow, or in two days.

A: That’s a good point, actually, because most people I know struggle with this. Many of us have a tough time stopping eating, especially when the food tastes so good (especially when we are alone).

Of course! I find that sometimes a glass of water or two before eating can help to make you feel more full. You don’t need to overfeed yourself and feel sick. Control the moment. The food may taste so good, but you can control when you stop eating.

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A: We call it ‘mindful eating.’

C: I try! But sometimes I am like a shark when I finish surfing and just want to eat everything! But I keep good munchies in my car, a few almonds. This will calm me down when I’m starving. But I eat them slowly. Doing things more slowly is so much more enjoyable! There’s only one life and we should really enjoy it.

A: Have you felt that owning animals has improved your life?

C: Yeah, of course. People with animals are happier. You come home and you’re alone and you can say hi to your babies. Now I have two girls at my house all the time!

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Caliche’s Dog Piper was named after the pipe she was rescued from.

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Caliche’s cat Shamu was rescued from his restaurant.

A: So what is the healthiest thing you do each day? It doesn’t have to be something you eat. It could be something you do, a thought you have…

C: I do two things. One, I really like my glass of water with lime in the morning. It’s really important to me. If I don’t have it I don’t have as much energy. And the other thing is surfing. You know, you jump in the warm water and you feel awesome. You know how good it feels to go surfing! And I also feel really happy when I go into the restaurant and talk to people eating my food. Happy thoughts are healthy.

A: So what’s your favourite ‘superfood,’ the food that gives you the biggest sense of wellbeing and energy?

C: It depends what I’m going to do. Any food can energize you, but it depends on how much you eat. If you overdo food, you’ll feel too heavy and want to go to sleep. I think that it’s more important to be conscious about food. You can eat everything in the world. You don’t have to go on a diet, but you should be conscious about what you eat. Maybe you love ice cream. You can eat it maybe once a week and really enjoy the flavour. It’s all about balance.

You guys in big cities have McDonalds, and Subways, what do you call them… fast food restaurants? That is what’s no good for people. Maybe that’s how people eat in cities. We don’t have as much of that, and so we eat better, simple food.

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A: Just like your poke bowl – it’s my favourite! Such simple ingredients but so healthy and so delicious.

C: It can be confusing putting all these flavours together, but all you need is a nice piece of fish, a little lime and some garlic and butter, put it on your plate with a salad and it’s awesome. With something super fresh, you don’t need to do a lot to it.

A: That’s why I like your cooking! We talked about this the other day, but I want to know what the most delicious thing you do, how do you treat yourself, how do you indulge? The other day you and I were talking about how we both like to go out for drinks with your friends.

C: Yes! My favourite thing is to have a couple of drinks with a good friend and make sure we’re laughing really hard. It’s the best. Laugh with your heart, almost cry because you’re laughing so much. Laughter is the cure for everything. It helps to make you feel positive and keep all the good energy in.

A: I like to laugh until my cheeks hurt. Do you watch funny movies and TV shows, too?

C: Yes I do! I love Californication – it’s the funniest show! If you walk by my house at night, you can hear me laughing, even if I’m by myself.

A: We know that you surf, but why do you do it?

C: It’s the thing I’ve been most passionate about for my whole life. It’s the most consistent thing I’ve ever done. It’s never been bad to me, it’s always been good. I’ve met great people, made good connections. My restaurant clientele is mostly from surfing! A lot of surfers, the pro surfers come to my restaurant when they come to town. It’s all about the food, the surfing, the culture.

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Caliche surfing in Nias, Sumatra

A: It certainly is. You have signed surfboards and photos covering the walls. And your food feels like the kind of food you want to eat after you’re done surfing for the day. So who inspires you?

C: Kelley Slater is 40 years old and he’s still amazing at surfing and keeps getting better. Another inspiration is going to sleep happy. When you open your eyes in the morning, you’re still happy. You know where I live, when I walk out my door in the morning, I only see the blue ocean and that’s such an inspiration for me. I’ve done so much work in my life, and this is my payback. I grew up with nothing and made my life how I wanted it.

A: You’ve created an amazing life for yourself that is the life you want. It’s incredible and I’ve seen your view – you can see right to Montezuma!

C: Life has been good to me. I want to be good to life.

A: Is there anything else you want to say? Has Kelley Slater ever come to Wishbone to eat?

C: Yeah! It was really funny! He came to Wishbone and ate a whole fish, a grilled snapper. I swear, I love to eat fish, but I have only seen a few people eat a fish the way that Kelley did. He even ate the head and eyes. The head is supposed to be the best for you. It was amazing.

A: That is amazing! Thank you so much Caliche, for this inspiring conversation. Pura Vida.

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Caliche relaxing post-surf in Nias, Sumatra.

Andrea’s Take on Caliche’s Simple Asian Steamed Fish

1 nice piece of wild caught fish (trout, pickerel and whitefish are good options in Ontario)
1” piece ginger, cut into thin strips (julienne)
1 tsp sesame oil
Soy sauce or tamari to taste

Place the ginger on top of the fish and steam until flaky, around 8 minutes. When fish is cooked through and flaky, remove the ginger and saute in the sesame oil and a little soy sauce or tamari. Pour over the cooked fish and enjoy.

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