Guests are often surprised at the sky-high quality of the cuisine at Mashpi: a buffet at lunch overflowing with ceviches, sandwiches and meat and fish options, as well as delicate pastries, while a la carte dinner boasts delicate soups and hunky cuts of meat. This is no mean feat considering that the hotel is located is the middle of a rainforest, with more than 40 minutes of off-road driving.
Oswaldo – who is 42 and hails from Canton Ventanas, seven hours from Mashpi – joined Mashpi Lodge five years ago, just a few months after it opened. Having begun his career here as a kitchen assistant, he was promoted to head chef two years ago. He now manages a team of 10 kitchen staff and creates gourmet breakfasts, lunch and dinner.
What were you doing before you started work in Mashpi?
I worked in Quito for 12 years, as a kitchen assistant. Mashpi was the first place to give me the opportunity to work as head chef. I’m proud of how far I’ve come.
Working in the middle of the Chocó rainforest, is it difficult to spend time with your family?
I have two hyperactive kids: 12 and nine years old. Every 10 days I can leave for five days, but I only get to spend two of those at home. One day I go and see my parents, and I spend around 12 hours travelling. From Mashpi I have to take a bus to Santo Domingo, and from Santo Domingo to Guayaquil to see my wife. It can be stressful, but you get used to it.
What are the challenges of cooking at Mashpi?
Considering we’re in the middle of the wilderness and accessibility is difficult, designing the menu used to be difficult. But I quickly realized that the key was to be creative with local, readily available ingredients: mountain garlic grows right outside for example, and there are certain types of sweet potatoes and grains which are easy to get here.
Mashpi’s dinner menu changes daily, and the lunch buffet is always varied. Where do you find your inspiration?
Chef Byron Rivera comes up with the esthetic and the feel of the menu but Marc and I are always suggesting things to him and inventing. I love working with seafood (although it’s quite difficult to get it here) and creating local versions of traditional Ecuadorian dishes, like a gourmet encebollado or llapingachos. The buffet is all my invention. I also have to make sure to cater for everyone’s needs, from allegories to vegans. Healthy options are also a big consideration for those who will be doing tough physical exercise after lunch, although some people do just come to enjoy themselves and will three hours over lunch!
Staff say that they eat well at Mashpi. What is the main consideration when coming up with menus for them?
I’m mainly thinking about nutrition: the guides have such active days that they need meals to give them energy.
Are you interested in nature?
That’s why I’m here! I love being surrounded by nature, I’ve done all the walks. My favourite thing about Mashpi is the nature, the earth. It’s the peace, the tranquility, the relaxation. It’s the air you breathe. I would really miss it if I had to work in a city again.