He’s worked with Europe’s finest chefs and knows where to find Ecuador‘s best ceviche… Rodrigo Pacheco sharpened his skills at culinary-arts schools, the Paul Bocuse Institute and the Alain Ducasse Formation, followed by stints under Pierre Gagnaire at Sketch and Michel Bras at Maison Bras. But he’s now swapped European gastronomy for new Ecuadorian cuisine at Tanusas Retreat & Spa on Ecuador’s Pacific coast. We got him to take time out of the kitchen at restaurant BocaValdivia to talk edible insects, jungle farms and eco-friendly Ecuadorian cuisine…
Why did you become a chef?
I’ve always wanted to be a chef; it’s in my blood. I’ve been interested in food since I was very young, but I was a fisherman first, so I learnt how to catch and prepare food from the ocean.
So, have any other chefs inspired you?
Michel Bras, Alain Chapel and Pierre Gagnaire. Also my teacher of five years, Georges Pralus (who popularised the sous-vide method of cooking), and cuisinier Jean Pierre Grossi – a wise and experienced man who’s guided me throughout my career.
What would you say is your signature dish?
Our team creates new signature dishes every day! The black-shellfish cappuccino with cassava croutons and palo santo oil has been the most successful so far.
At BocaValdivia, you get ingredients from the rainforest, ocean and local farms – how do you ensure the food is eco-friendly?
We try to stay away from supermarkets or corporate providers. We seek to cultivate ingredients on site, too, at our ‘food jungle’ – home to more than 80 types of fruits, vegetables, flowers, roots and seeds. We also harvest wild fruit and try to use our natural resources responsibly. We’ve also introduced a fishing system to Tanusas that makes us 80 per cent self-sufficient in terms of sourcing ingredients.
That philosophy carries across to your ‘green school’, where you offer classes on conservation…
Helping the community is one of our main goals. By building a green school we want to bring hope to the local children, including my own son: instead of educating him in Quito, we decided to build a school with great values right here. Nutrition is a tool for health and success, and we can use it to bring about positive change in the community. We give full training to Tanusas’ staff, too: none had finished primary school or worked in hospitality before we opened our doors to them. I believe that happy people (and great food) make a happy hotel, which means happy guests.
So, how important is a sense of place to your cooking?
Haute cuisine should reflect its locality. Food is a huge part of Ecuador’s culture and history, and I want to use traditional ingredients and cooking techniques to share it with the world. I learnt how to be a perfectionist in France, but studying my own culture’s cuisine – from the Amazon to the Andean highlands and the coast – made me appreciate Ecuador’s unique climate and biodiversity. It’s a paradise for any chef.
What do you think will be South America’s next big food trend? And where do you go to dine on authentic Ecuadorean dishes?
In the Amazon, they do great things with edible insects: I predict this will be the next big trend. For traditional hornado (roast pork) and llapingachos (cheese-and-potato cakes served with peanut sauce), I head to the highland markets. For the best ceviche, I go to Salango village, by the coast.
And when you’re travelling outside Ecuador, what do you look for in a hotel?
For me, it’s food. A hotel’s food is an indicator of its quality and a reflection of the country’s culture. I like to spend my holidays amid nature, with a glass of good wine, but I need an adrenaline boost, too. I enjoy surfing, horse-riding, kayaking and cycling.
Have you taken your Mrs Smith on any romantic trips?
We once watched the active Tungurahua volcano erupt in Baños de Agua Santa and the Ecuadorian jungle can be very romantic, too.
Lucky lady! And finally, what will you have for dinner tonight?
I’m joining our guests for afternoon tea in our organic garden – we get cream from our resident cow to use on the cakes and scones. We fished in the morning and we’ll harvest the garden at 5.30pm, so the menu will be the result of today’s foraging.