Published on April 15th, 2016 | by admin0
The man who never stopped!
ARTICLE AND PHOTOS BY ASHLEY HARRELL
Watching Andy Cook Campell prepare a Caribbean shrimp dish one afternoon at his restaurant, Cool & Calm Café in Manzanillo, it’s striking how natural it all seems to him. He knows just when to flip the shrimp, how much curry spice to add and how to arrange it all just so on the plate. His movements in the kitchen are quick and purposeful, and if you didn’t know he has a prosthetic right leg, you could watch him all day without noticing it.
Andy himself has spent most of his life not noticing it, but he doesn’t mind telling the story.
“The 22nd of April, 1991, there was a big shake,” he says. Andy was 12 at the time living in Limón, the Caribbean port city, with his mom. He was in school when building began to quiver, and like the rest of the kids, he tried too flee as quickly as possible. But Andy got unlucky.
“A concrete wall fell and took away the little boy’s leg,” he says. Then he smiles and quickly adds, “But it didn’t take away the dream, and it didn’t stop the man. The man kept going.”
Back then, Andy’s favorite thing to do was help his grandmother in the kitchen. She had incredible recipes for all the best Caribbean dishes – lobster Caribeño, rice-nbeans, rondon soup, everything.
Despite being down a leg, Andy found that on crutches he was able to continue helping his grandmother and learning his way around the kitchen. His other main interest, diving for lobster, remained feasible as well.
“Under the water, it was like nothing happened,” he says. Freediving with one leg was just the same as freediving with two, only now he looked like a merman.
To build his skills and experience, in his teens and twenties Andy traveled around Costa Rica working with lots of different people and restaurants. He got his start in Tamarindo at a Caribbean place, then spent eight months in Liberia at another. He moved to Drake Bay to prepare vegan food for yogis at a hotel, then he worked at a restaurant in Ciudad Colón and got some informal management experience. He saved enough money to travel to Fairfax Virginia and buy himself a prosthetic leg.
When he got back, he had his eye on the prize – a waterfront property in Manzanillo, where he had spent most of his childhood. He rented it and turned into The Cool & Calm Café, a decidedly Rasta spot with an indoor seating area and beachfront tables and chairs made of tree trunks. His menu includes all the Caribbean favorites and He also started offering cooking classes, a snorkeling excursion and a “reef to plate” tour, where he brings guests on freedives for lobster, then cooks their catch.
Andy’s dream now is to buy his own property back in the town, away from the water and the main tourist drag. He’d like to focus there on further perfecting his art and sharing it with the world.
No doubt about it, this man will keep going.
Location: Manzanillo, across from the beach
Prices: main dishes $10-$24
Hours: Mon 4-9pm, Wed-Sun 11am-9pm, closed Tue.