It’s not often you find a professional chef with a degree in agronomy from a university in Costa Rica or an Ecuadorian TV personality trained in hospitality in the French resort of Biarritz, but María Ruth Moreno is all these and more. Produce Business UK caught up with her on a recent mission in London as part of ProEcuador’s Ecuador Exquisito event to find out how she uses her passion for her country’s produce and cuisine to switch people on to enjoying eating healthy, fresh fruits and vegetables
So how does an agronomist end up as TV chef?
María Ruth Moreno (MRM): I graduated in agronomy in Costa Rica and then moved to France where I trained as a chef in Biarritz. When I went back to Ecuador I had the opportunity to teach cooking and I realised how much I enjoyed explaining and communicating to people about food and cookery. Now I have cooking segments on TV in Ecuador on TC TV, the most popular channel in the country.
There are lots of people cooking on TV, what’s different about your message?
MRM: I think my point of difference is the social responsibility angle. I believe in showing people how they can eat healthily every day with ordinary fresh produce they can buy at any market.
When it comes to everyday cooking, lots of people eat too much sugar and too much fried food. I am targeting mainly mums, because it’s the mums that cook for and eat with the family. It’s about getting them to use ingredients such as quinoa and getting the message across, little by little – that drip, drip, drip effect – that good health starts on your plate and that it can taste good too.
But aren’t healthy eating messages boring?
MRM: I don’t shout: “Eat this; it’s good for you”, because in reality, yes, it’s a bit dull and people switch off. I am more subtle; “you could add some green vegetables here, some quinoa there…”.
We don’t see much Ecuadorian cuisine here in the UK. What’s it like?
MRM: It’s extremely varied and it’s very different from region to region, such as in the Andes, on the coast and in Amazonia. Even within the regions themselves the cuisine varies. In Esmeraldas on the coast they cook with a lot of shellfish and coconut, while in Manabí, which is also coastal, they use peanuts and tuna, for example, and in Guayaquil, it’s all about ceviche and encebollado (a fish stew).
We don’t have hot, spicy dishes per se, but we serve our food with a hot sauce on the side as a condiment, so people can add as much or as little as they like.
You’ve travelled with ProEcuador to promote Ecuadorian food and ingredients all around the world. What do you think has the most potential for the UK market?
MRM: Although we have ceviche in Ecuador, internationally it is seen as a Peruvian dish in the same way that anything wrapped in a leaf is seen as Mexican, so even though we have similar dishes, we won’t go there.
When we get together as chefs and cooks in Ecuador, what we realise is that we use green plantain. A lot! And in so many different ways. I think more so than in any other country. We use them in soups and casseroles, as a mash, with shellfish; there is such as variety of applications. I think that that green plantain is something we should really be promoting as Ecuadorian in some way.
When you ask Ecuadorians what their favourite type of cuisine is, they won’t say French or Chinese or food from anywhere else, they will say Ecuadorian. We live in a privileged place in Ecuador and we will always be proud of our culinary heritage.