Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Frutas, Frutas...y Melones!

Bienvenidos to the cupping room!

It's Day Two in Ibague and after our very "fruitful" visit to Carrefour yesterday, we've got an assortment of local fruits and local milks to taste before we start the workshops tomorrow. Okay, the fruits are for our own knowledge and the milk is for the workshop.

Before we can get to the tastings, there are some things that need to be done first - like translating the coursework PowerPoint slides into Spanish from English. And since my Espanol no es muy bien I'm sitting around feeling rather helpless and twiddling my thumbs. After setting up the fruit with cups and plates, which takes about ten minutes, I'm left again with nothing else much to do except try to occupy myself.

Which is usually about the time I get into trouble.

Our cupping of frutas: Lulo, Curuba, Tomate de Arbol, Sapote, Higos y Granadilla

Outside of our tasting lab is someone new. Someone whom I did not see nor meet yesterday. She's stunning and I quickly turn around and run back into the tasting lab to hide. Why is it that men (guys) always seem to run when they first meet (see) a beautiful woman? Maybe it's because we're hit with a major lack of composure, or maybe we generally don't have any sort of composure and, when we run into a pretty woman, we need to retreat to find that composure and attempt to put our best foot forward.

Well, I'm generally a misfit and prone to say ridiculous and outlandish stuff to girls. I'm calculating what to do. Say hello? Hablo "hola"? Stutter and stare? She probably doesn't speak English, which means I'm screwed. I need to bide my time and take another look for reconnaissance. I walk out of the cupping room and she's still sitting there at the first desk with her light skin, jet black hair and captivating eyes framed with black glasses. She's wearing a purple top and the trademark of the women of Ibague: tight fitting pants. Ay, Dios mio. I'll walk out briefly, pretending to look for someone.

Rodrigo - always smelling the fruit.

Rushing back into the lab, someone notices and tells me that she speaks English. Ah, Bonne Chance!, but what I think I need is Bonne Courage as I step back out to engage her but then she's busy on the phone now. Mierda! I turn to the right to peer out the open window. By this point, I don't want to imagine how I must look popping in and out of the lab with no real agenda.

Finally, an opportunity opens and I approach: "Hi. Where is the bano?" She looks at me for a moment before getting up to show me where the bathroom is: it's down the hall, across the elevators and to the right. She takes me there and I get my chance to ask her if she speaks English and chat about life and who she is, what she does and whatever else is possible in the 30 seconds it takes to walk there and another two minutes while standing outside the rest room.

In the world I've lived, I've met, known and worked with some very beautiful women. In some ways, I feel as though I've seen it all: actresses, movie stars, celebrities, models and regular people. By now, I've worked in motion pictures and lived in Hawaii where it's not uncommon to see beautiful women. For me, it's rare that I'm stunned and today I was stunned and seem to running around like a headless chicken for it.

Carolina offers the proper technique for handling the Curuba.

Of course, you realize that I didn't really need to go to the bathroom, and I also knew where the bathroom was from yesterday. i just needed an opening that didn't seem too much like a stalker. It's something I'll tell her later - that I already knew where the bathroom was, I just wanted to talk with her. I think she liked it and didn't find it too weird.

Back in the lab, we're getting into the fruit: Tomate de Arbol, Lulo, Higo, Zapote, Curuba and Granadilla - all which I'm unfamiliar. In fact, I think Rodrigo and Rouki are also unfamiliar with these fruits. I'm wondering if there isn't some sort of South American magic going on here.


With the fruits laid out, we start digging in. Tearing and twisting. Prodding and pulling. Squeezing and squashing. There's new textures and sensations with just the outer skins of the fruits alone. I found it all very fascinating. Some had familiar flavors or looks and then were outright surprises.

Take the Curuba, for example. When you tear into it, the inside sac looks a lot like an elongated mandarin orange, but tear into that sac and there are bright, little orange pulps surrounding black seeds. Sweet.

Curuba - kinda looks like an elongated mandarin.

Curuba - but nothing like a mandarin on the inside.

Curuba - I thought those tentacle-like things holding the seeds were fascinating.
In fact, a lot of these fruits had many seeds. Most of them were mostly seeds with a slight mucilage of fruit pulp surrounding them. Everyone seemed to eat the things whole - seeds and all. The sweet pulp with the crunchiness of the seeds and a slight bitterness as well. Interesting.

Tomate de Arbol - really does look like a tomato inside.

The Tomate de Arbol seemed to get the most attention. Tomato of the Tree or Tree Tomato? What kind of funkiness is this? Cutting into it revealed that does indeed look and have the texture of a tomato but much sweeter and delicate. But for me the truly interesting fruit was the Sapote. Once you've cut through the tough outer skin, the fruit looks stringy and orange, much like a sweet potato. But dig in and it's anything but. Delicately sweet, stringy and complex.

Sapote - the texture reminded me of sweet potato.

I had been so focused on my tasting that I didn't realize that a frenzy had broken out around me. Everyone is cutting and pulling and tasting fruit. For Carolina and Diego, this stuff is old news. They're Colombian so they see this all the time. For us visitors, it's a whole new world. The knive is flailing about, fruit juice is being spilled, it's exciting, like being at some sort of fruit NASCAR.

Alfredo returns with a load of milks from the grocery store to try. We taste them cold, steamed and in cappuccinos. Some of them start out sweet, others get sweeter with heat and then some just completely falter. Sadly, the coffee in the cappuccinos isn't the greatest we've ever tasted and that makes judging the milk for capps all the more difficult. A milk that may have been interestingly sweet heated in the cup, suddenly is wiped out and destroyed by the coffee.

Higos - in Mexico they call this tuna.

Granadilla - mas dulce, with the most fascinating outer skin.

We're powering through them and, happily, Alfredo and Rodrigo are doing the work of steaming and pulling shots on the espresso machine. I don't drink much milk in the course of a day and we're certainly going beyond what I would normally drink in perhaps a week, except some are good and others are bad - which makes it all the more tenuous for tummy.

Alfredo, Carolina, Rodrigo and Rouki attempt to figure out the fat content.

With all the fruit flying and milk drinking, I want to bust outside the tasting room to chat more with the girl in the glasses and purple shirt. Milk and fruit are nice, but what about the honey? Somewhere along in life, I've learned how to feign calmness in spite of the fact that I'm stressed and/or about to explode inside. Just on the other side of that glass partition. Hmm, maybe I need to go to the bathroom again?

Leche! from Alqueria.

A few minutes later, we're finished with our tastings, the power point presentations are ready for tomorrow and it's time for us to leave the Comite offices, grab a bite to eat and make sure everything is being set up correctly for our workshop. Now's my chance to invite her along to lunch, chat, learn more about her and just be fascinated. Should I keep my hair pulled back or let it flow down like that rocker Juanes?

Alfredo pours some capps with the test milk.

As we emerge from the cupping room, the entire floor is empty and dark. It's 12:15pm and this place is deserted. Everyone is gone. Nooooo! I think I'm ready to flail myself about. It seems that in Colombia, everyone goes to lunch at a certain, designated time, that time has passed and everyone is gone - even my girl with the jet black hair, black glasses and purple top. Mierda.

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