Costa Rican Chef Brings Tasty Roots to San Clemente
Dec 14, 2017 09:46AM
By Cara Taylor
by Cara Elise Taylor
Whether it’s a large-scale event, a quiet dinner party, or lunchtime on a Wednesday - Chef Richard Taylor always cooks with purpose. He methodically chops, sautés, and seasons fresh ingredients, tasting and adjusting until he’s achieved the perfect flavor. He appears timid as he focuses, but the final taste, by which he considers the meal complete, is when his personality makes its entrance.
“Ooooh!” he crescendos, “I put my foot in this one y’all!”
That’s how he summons his guests to dine. His character makes them smile, the scent of hot food excites them, and the expectant shattering flavor makes their faces twist in shock and pure bliss. It’s flavor that tastes of passion, practice, and a rich cultural background.
The Chef comes from Limon, a gorgeous province on the Caribbean (Atlantic) side of Costa Rica. As a child he was encouraged to be hardworking by the woman who raised him-his late grandmother. She shaped his work ethic, as well as his love for cooking, which was born quite literally from hunger.
“I was about seven years old…and everything that she cooked, I got the first taste. So it was by wanting to eat, that I spent so much time in the kitchen with her,” he said, chuckling at the memory.
The cooking was done under meager circumstances.
“We had small kerosene stove and a little brick stove that we put charcoal in and used Dutch oven pots to cook with.”
Their backyard, however, was abundant with delicious resources. It had chickens among the tropical fruits, herbs, and vegetables. Avocado, lemon, lime, lemongrass, and fresh eggs were a stone’s throw away from the kitchen table. So, at 10-years-old when his grandmother began teaching him how to cook, he learned to work with the freshest tropical ingredients.
At age 16, when he moved to the United States to live with his parents and younger siblings in Queens, New York, he learned that his dad also had a way of making Latin Caribbean flavors reveal magic to the taste buds. He would volunteer to make dinner a few nights a week, giving him the chance to hone his cooking skills even further.
Years later, in 2001, Rich finally began making serious moves to become a professional chef. He was leaving a job at the time, and was determined to be thoughtful about his next career move.
“In order to really enjoy what I do, I’ve gotta do something that I love and I’m passionate about,” he remembers thinking. He attended the College of DuPage for two years (’01-’03), and earned an Associate’s degree in Culinary Arts. Since then he’s worked as a line cook at The Herrington Inn & Spa, and for 15 years as Executive Chef at The Oakbrook Golf Club.
During this period, he developed a recipe for a delicious hot sauce, aptly named Tico Rico’s Habanero Hot Sauce. The name is a reference to his roots. Tico, a term Costa Ricans use to identify themselves, and Rico meaning Rich.
“I’ve always loved hot sauce,” he mentioned, and when customers at the Golf Club were looking for it, he was encouraged to craft one from scratch. Some hot sauces offer nothing more than a burn to the taste buds, robbing you of the opportunity to enjoy the food you’re eating. Rich’s sauce, which took him two years to create, manages to be a happy, addictively tasty place where both flavor and heat meet.
“Habaneros can be really hot,” he says, “but the good thing is they have a great flavor…and if I’m going to sell it, it has to be something that people still physically can enjoy.”
Rich and his wife were blessed enough to be able to move to San Clemente two-years-ago, after searching for a warm spot on the map to spend their empty nest phase. It should come as no surprise to locals that they’ve fallen in love with this town. The residents of San Clemente are neighborly, cordial, and encouraging in the act of having a good time. Combined with the unfathomably great weather and breathtaking ocean views, this city has been a fantastic new home for them. In addition to sending applications to local farmers’ markets, Rich plans to open a restaurant here. Until then he’ll continue to sell his Habanero sauce alongside his delightful Pico de Gallo, at the Elks Lodge Flea Market (third Saturday of each month from 8am-2pm).
“I want people in San Clemente, who are really great people, to enjoy some of the flavors of the Caribbean that I think I can impart here.”
Head to chefticorico.com if you’re interested in catering for your next event or ordering some Tico Rico Habanero Hot Sauce.