“Gastronomy or conservation working alone doesn’t make sense any more. But these two working together: this is the way.” So says Rodrigo Pacheco, who, over the past decade, working with his wife and business partner, Dayra Reyes, has transformed several deteriorated parcels of land on the rural coast of Ecuador’s Manabí province into thriving habitats for wildlife and produce such as cocoa, soursop and yucca. These BCBs (Bosques Comestibles Biodiversos, which translates as ‘biodiverse, edible forests’) supply their 10-year-old restaurant, Bocavaldivia, and its neighbouring eco-hotel, Tanusas, with around 150 species of fruit, vegetable and herb.
At the 12-seat, open-air restaurant, Pacheco serves his creations on sustainably sourced tableware. Either carved from wood and seeds or made by the chef himself from clay dug on site, the bowls and spoons pay homage to pre-Hispanic traditions. And in celebration of Ecuador’s vast biodiversity, all ingredients are native. Desserts include melted cocoa with oatmeal crisps, presented in halved cocoa shells and eaten with spoons carved from the hard-shell fruit of a calabash tree.
The restaurant was the catalyst for a bioeconomy project that connects gastronomy and conservation with agriculture, education, science, tourism and local Indigenous communities such as the Chola-Montuvia, from which Pacheco sources seafood. His approach to conservation is productive and collaborative, not just to preserve. As such, Indigenous communities are consulted for their knowledge, land is often rewilded and ecosystems regenerated for food production, education and scientific research.
“We want to create opportunities for traditional agricultural communities,” says Pacheco, who trains young Indigenous people in hospitality, permaculture and fishing. His work supports 150 local families, plus more across Ecuador. “Gastronomy hasn’t been paying attention to them because restaurants import products that come in a can.”
In 2022, after his self-funded conservation project at Bocavaldivia and Tanusas reached 301 acres, Pacheco partnered with private nature reserves that were keen to be part of his BCB. These included a 14,000-acre cloud forest in Maquipucuna. Under Bocavaldivia’s stewardship, the forests supply restaurants with part of their harvest. Landowners create culinary initiatives based on what’s grown, learning how to engage tourists in activities that connect nature and gastronomy. Pacheco’s team of scientists also document wildlife, including Maquipucuna’s spectacled bear, with cameras and drones, cataloguing plants and measuring carbon capture.
After Pacheco brought in investors to grow the project, the BCB ballooned to 85,000 acres in just one month. “This isn’t just a
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