If a restaurant were ever true to its name, it’s Foresta. The Spanish verb forestar, you see, means to plant trees and vegetation—which is exactly what Ecuadorian chef Rodrigo Pacheco did to accompany his new fine-dining spot in Quito’s lively La Floresta neighborhood.
“We started in the earth,” Pacheco says of the one-acre “edible” woodland he established in Pillagua, a town just outside the Ecuadorian capital, a year ahead of the restaurant’s September 2022 opening. These carefully cultivated woods are home to a mix of plants, from herbs and shrubs to towering trees, and they sprout a variety of native fruits, vegetables, seeds, and plants for Foresta’s ever-changing menu. The project is an expansion of a regenerative agroforestry initiative the chef launched a decade ago, when he worked to transform degraded ecosystems around the coastal town of Puerto Cayo into roughly 300 acres of forest from which he could source ingredients for his first restaurant, Bocavaldivia. The effort has been steadily expanding since, growing to a total of about 81,000 acres across Ecuador.
Since bringing his ideas to the big city, Pacheco has been able to harvest a bounty that includes tomate de árbol, which shines as the base of delectable ceviches, and maracuyá (passion fruit), whose bittersweet tang in a creamy coconut-based sauce complements the smokiness of a delicately grilled fish. The project is about more than just supplying the chef’s kitchens, though. “Gastronomy and hospitality are very responsible for climate change,” he says. “That’s why the solutions also have to come from us.”
The problem Pacheco is referring to is the carbon footprint that results from the long-distance shipping of the high-end ingredients that chefs and diners now expect year-round in fine-dining restaurants. Localizing the food supply chain and crafting seasonal menus that highlight Ecuador’s various ecosystems—from the Pacific coast to the Amazon rain forest to the Andes mountains—is part of his effort to change that paradigm. Aside from what he harvests from his forests, Pacheco works with fair trade producers to procure local ingredients. “When you talk about the most biodiverse country in the world and its catalog of products,” he says, “imagine how playful that is for a chef.”
Pacheco also expresses this diversity in the staffing of his “open mind and open heart” kitchen, as he hires chefs from throughout the country to incorporate the ancestral culinary knowledge of Ecuador’s many peoples. The dishes they prepare blend geographic influences—for example, the sustainable catch of the day from the coast is paired with native purple maíz from the mountainous province of Imbabura. Pacheco is also unafraid to embrace traditional ingredients that might give less-adventuresome diners pause, such as crunchy Amazonian insects.
“Foresta’s culinary art is meant to transmit wisdom, knowledge, and, especially, climate information to our guests,” Pacheco says. “The menu is a great tribute to Ecuadorian biodiversity.”