Spanish French

Episode 46: El paraíso del chef (The Chef’s Paradise)

By Duolingo on Thu 16 January 2020

Rodrigo Pacheco worked in some of the world's best restaurants, but he never truly felt like the chef he aspired to be until he found himself far from the culinary scene on the Ecuadorian coast. That's where his quest to build a 100% sustainable restaurant began.

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Transcript

Martina: Rodrigo Pacheco will never forget where he was in November of 2008. At that time, he was at the top of his career.

He was 25 years old, working as a sous chef at a restaurant with two Michelin stars, in a prestigious French hotel. Out front, patrons were anxiously waiting to be served some of the best meals of their lives, but behind closed doors, the kitchen… was hell.

Rodrigo: Ese día, yo fui a ayudar a la jefa de cocina y ella me quemó con una sartén. No fue un accidente. Esa era su manera de disciplinarnos. Ella pensaba que así íbamos a ser mejores chefs.

Martina: That's right, the chef burned his arm with a skillet—una sartén—on purpose! Other times, she would throw salt in his face. Physical aggression and mistreatment was an everyday thing.

Rodrigo: Esa no podía ser la manera correcta. Yo sabía que había otra forma de cocinar, de conectarse con la comida y con los compañeros de trabajo.

Martina: After 10 years cooking in Europe—far from his native Ecuador—Rodrigo longed for a more meaningful connection to his work and his food. So whenever he was under duress at the restaurant, he would close his eyes and try to imagine himself in the kitchen of his childhood.

Rodrigo: Yo pensaba en la cocina que mi mamá y mi abuela me habían enseñado. Y, era cierto… yo estaba en uno de los mejores restaurantes del mundo, pero esa no era la vida que yo quería.

Martina: Rodrigo knew it was time for a change, even if it meant giving up on the fame and success he had worked so hard to attain.

Rodrigo: Era hora de volver a mi país. Era hora de comenzar mi propio camino.

Martina: Bienvenidos and welcome to the Duolingo Spanish Podcast—I'm Martina Castro.

Every episode, we bring you fascinating true stories, to help you improve your Spanish listening, and gain new perspectives on the world.

The storyteller will be using intermediate Spanish and I'll be chiming in for context in English. If you miss something, you can always skip back and listen again. We also offer full transcripts at podcast.duolingo.com.

Martina: When Rodrigo Pacheco was a kid, something always bothered him. Every time he invited a friend to his house, they came up with a new excuse for why they couldn't come over. Why didn't anyone want to play with him? It wasn't until many years later that he finally understood.

Rodrigo: En mi casa, en Quito, no había Coca-Cola ni tampoco golosinas. Mi madre y mi abuela cocinaban todo artesanalmente. Todo: la mantequilla, el queso, el yogurt, los jugos, las tortas, el pan, las mermeladas…

Martina: Rodrigo's friends wanted candy, golosinas. They didn't care much for his grandmother's homemade bread and jam.

Rodrigo: La mayoría de los productos que utilizaban venían de nuestro jardín. Mi abuelo criaba los pollos y gallinas que nos daban los huevos que necesitábamos para cocinar. Yo recuerdo que en Navidad, con mi hermano íbamos a cazar el pavo que nos íbamos a comer en la cena.

Martina: It's safe to say none of Rodrigo's classmates had to hunt the turkey for Christmas dinner like he did. But this life was totally normal for Rodrigo. The kitchen was the heart and soul of his home, and he grew up watching his mother and grandmother cook.

Rodrigo: Mi abuelita Leonor es una persona llena de amor. Ella hacía jugos de frutas y platos realmente deliciosos. Mi otra abuelita era chilena y también era una cocinera increíble. Ella preparaba un pollo al coñac delicioso. También cocinaba muy bien los diferentes tipos de pescado.

Martina: Rodrigo loved that family kitchen. It was the best classroom he ever had.

Rodrigo: La comida no solo era comida. Era una forma de vida, otra manera de ver el mundo. Mi mamá tenía la capacidad de transformar lo más simple en algo extraordinario.

Martina: Thanks to his food-centered childhood, Rodrigo always knew he wanted to be a chef. To get started, he went to Chile and studied hotel and restaurant administration.

Rodrigo: Después de mi graduación en Chile, yo viajé a Francia a estudiar artes culinarias en una de las mejores escuelas del mundo. Aprendí sobre la cocina clásica francesa, a trabajar con alta tecnología, y estuve en restaurantes muy prestigiosos.

Martina: France is a chef's paradise. And it seemed like Rodrigo was living the dream.

Rodrigo: Pero no me sentía como un verdadero chef. No estaba cómodo con esa manera de cocinar y de ver el mundo. Yo estaba cansado de estudiar libros de cocina europea y, sobre todo, de ese maltrato constante.

Martina: It wasn't all maltrato, or mistreatment. Rodrigo did have some good experiences in European kitchens, but the bad ones were so bad that he wanted out. He tired of what he considered elaborate processes and high-tech gadgets in French cooking. He craved simplicity, so he started to consider other options.

Rodrigo: Yo sabía que podía descubrir una vasta cultura culinaria en Ecuador. Ese era mi objetivo, pero todavía no sabía cómo lo iba a alcanzar.

Martina: In 2009, Rodrigo decided to return home to Quito, Ecuador. He worked with partners to open a new hotel and restaurant, where he met his future wife, Daira, a hotel manager. He quickly made a name for himself on the local culinary scene and he was on an exceptional career path. But somehow, he still felt lost.

Rodrigo: Me iba muy bien. En mi nuevo hotel, invité a los mejores chefs del mundo a cocinar conmigo. Yo tenía reconocimiento dentro y fuera de mi país, pero aún no le encontraba sentido a mi profesión.

Martina: Then, a unique opportunity came Rodrigo's way.

Rodrigo: En el 2012, una empresa me contrató para cocinarle a unos periodistas internacionales en un lugar que yo no conocía. El lugar era en la costa sur de Ecuador, a ocho horas de Quito en carro, en un área muy remota.

Martina: The developer wanted to build a hotel and culinary business on this remote piece of coastal land. They loved Rodrigo's cooking so much, that they offered to put him in charge of carrying the project forward.

Rodrigo: Mi esposa y yo nos enamoramos del lugar inmediatamente. La naturaleza a nuestro alrededor era lo más increíble. Esta zona está en la costa del Pacífico y hay dos tipos de bosques, uno seco tropical y otro húmedo, y a cien metros… el mar.

Martina: The place was called Las Tanusas and it was breathtakingly beautiful. Rodrigo and Daira never wanted to leave.

Rodrigo: La primera mañana, Daira y yo nos levantamos y vimos animales y aves alrededor de nosotros. En ese momento, dijimos: "Nosotros queremos vivir aquí".

Martina: So they took the offer and moved to Las Tanusas. But there was one big problem: there was nothing there. The nearest minimarket was 80 kilometers from home! They'd have to travel almost two hours just to buy a few vegetables.

Rodrigo: De repente, tuve una idea: "Si queremos transformar esto en un hotel y en un restaurante, tenemos que obtener nuestro propio alimento".

Martina: That's when they decided something that would set the project on a unique and irreversible course: they would grow all of their own food.

Rodrigo: Los ecuatorianos sabemos que nuestra mejor maestra es la necesidad. Así fue como nuestros antepasados sobrevivieron, y así fue como encontré una solución para no tener que viajar dos horas para buscar alimentos.

Martina: Following the traditions of their ancestors, Rodrigo and Daira started planting yucca and plantains. They researched how pre-Hispanic cultures, like the Valdivia, thrived on this land.

Rodrigo: Nosotros nos familiarizamos particularmente con la cultura Valdivia, que estuvo en este lugar hace más de seis mil años. Se dice que los primeros agricultores, navegantes y alfareros del continente americano fueron parte de esta cultura.

Martina: Alfareros are potters. Valdivian culture became Rodrigo's guiding light, even when it came to the restaurant's name: BocaValdivia. It opened in 2014, two years after Rodrigo and Daira arrived in Las Tanusas.

Rodrigo: Sin embargo, nosotros tuvimos que aprender mucho sobre agricultura sustentable y sobre cómo criar nuestros animales para poder tener el restaurante de nuestros sueños.

Martina: Despite having a lot to learn, Rodrigo remained confident that their efforts would one day, literally, bear fruit.

Rodrigo: Nosotros tuvimos que aprender los ciclos de la naturaleza. Teníamos que saber cuándo plantar cada alimento y cómo cuidar la tierra. También teníamos que saber cuáles peces podíamos pescar y cuáles no, y cuándo era la temporada para criar gansos y patos.

Martina: When he wasn't raising gansos, or geese—Rodrigo was knee-deep in plants. Ecuador is one of the most biodiverse countries in the world. It represents only 0.2% of the Earth's surface, but it's home to 10% of all plant species. But with plants, come pests. One time his vegetable garden, or huerto, was invaded by gusanos, worms.

Rodrigo: Los gusanos empezaron a comerse toda la vegetación del huerto. En la noche, nosotros escuchábamos cómo los gusanos se comían todas las hojas. Nos dejaron casi sin nada, pero nosotros íbamos a seguir intentándolo.

Martina: Each setback represented a lesson for Rodrigo, and in that way he kept evolving his strategies and becoming more and more committed to Sustainable food production. Without realizing, he was gravitating toward the methods he learned in the kitchen of his childhood.

Rodrigo: Mi objetivo era hacer una cocina de baja tecnología, artesanal, la antítesis de la cocina francesa. Además, yo quería utilizar materia prima de primera mano. Productos frescos.

Martina: After launching the restaurant in 2014, Rodrigo set a new goal: to get his dishes as close as possible to being 100% sustainable. For him, this means growing everything on-site, reducing food waste, and cooking in an artisanal way.

Rodrigo: Pero es un desafío tener una cocina cien por ciento sustentable. Muy pocas cocinas en el mundo lo han logrado.

Martina: It was a desafío, a challenge. So, Rodrigo and Daira spent years preparing the land that they needed for their sustainable restaurant. They planted everything: basil, tomatoes, bell peppers, lemons, white carrots, guavas, sweet potatoes, and so much more… until they had 180 kinds of crops.

Rodrigo: Hoy, finalmente, tenemos el restaurante de nuestros sueños. Cada día, nosotros decidimos el menú en función de los alimentos que tenemos disponibles.

Martina: Every morning, Rodrigo gets a list of all the available ingredients that day: fruits and vegetables, as well as fish and meat.

Rodrigo: No tenemos un menú fijo. Les ofrecemos a los clientes los productos que tenemos disponibles. Por ejemplo, si vamos al río y pescamos, pues ese día hacemos ceviche.

Martina: Ceviche made with fresh caught fish is a rare treat. For a while, Rodrigo had a guy who brought him fish every day. But, one day, the fisherman didn't show up.

Rodrigo: Yo hacía mucho kayak, entonces fui al río con dos muchachos que me ayudaban en la cocina. Los tres nos subimos al kayak y agarramos varios pescados.

Martina: From that moment on, the kitchen staff went fishing on a daily basis. His restaurant staff was another point of innovation. He wanted them to be special, so he broke all the rules in building his team.

Rodrigo: Los cocineros de BocaValdivia aprendieron a cocinar conmigo. Antes, todos tenían trabajos que no tenían nada que ver con la cocina y la mayoría eran casi analfabetos. Hoy son chefs profesionales.

Martina: By 2017, Rodrigo had built something amazing. He was successfully spreading the gospel of culinary sustainability on the coast of Ecuador. But part of him still wanted to reach another level—to take sustainable cooking to the world stage, and serve as an ambassador for traditional Latin American cuisine.

Rodrigo: Ese año, una empresa de casting me contactó porque estaban buscando chefs para un reality show de cocina en Netflix.

Martina: The show was called "Final Table"—a high-level competition among the best chefs in the world. They came from everywhere, including Scotland, United States, Australia, Colombia, India, Mexico, and Japan. Rodrigo was the only one from Ecuador, and they flew him to Los Angeles for the taping.

Rodrigo: Mi misión era poner a Ecuador dentro del mapa culinario internacional. Ecuador tiene una gran biodiversidad cultural y natural y su cocina tiene miles de años, pero, aún así, no es un país muy conocido a nivel gastronómico.

Martina: From a full English breakfast to Thanksgiving dinner, Rodrigo passed every test. His stay in L.A. kept getting extended until he reached the semi-final—and just like that, Rodrigo became world-famous.

Rodrigo: Representar a Ecuador a ese nivel fue algo increíble para mí. Si yo llegaba a la final, iba a cocinar mandíbula de huayaipe, que es un tipo de pescado muy bueno que uso para no sobreexplotar al atún. También pensaba usar ingredientes de mi huerta. Yo conozco esos ingredientes y me siento cómodo cuando los uso.

Martina: But Rodrigo says his true reward was getting to promote his approach to sustainable cooking, one that's both innovative and a throwback to his roots.

Rodrigo: Esa fue mi victoria. Yo pude enviar a todas partes del mundo un mensaje de conservación, de biodiversidad, de respeto y de conexión con nuestras culturas ancestrales. Y así demostré que la alta cocina no está solo en los prestigiosos restaurantes europeos. La alta cocina también se puede encontrar en lo más simple.

Martina: Rodrigo Pacheco is Executive Chef of BocaValdivia, a restaurant at Tanusas Resort in Ecuador. Since his experiment began, Rodrigo's team has managed to grow, fish and collect more than 400 ingredients.

This story was produced by Tali Goldman, a journalist and writer based in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

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The Duolingo Spanish podcast is produced by Duolingo and Adonde Media. I'm the executive producer, Martina Castro. Gracias por escuchar.

Credits

This episode was produced by Duolingo and Adonde Media.

Producer: Tali Goldman
Narrator & Protagonist: Rodrigo Pacheco
Script Editor: Grant Fuller
Mixed by: Jeanne Montalvo
Sound Design & Mastering Engineer: Jeanne Montalvo