“It’s my conviction,” says Juan Sebastián Gallardo, head chef of Zero Lab, “that Ecuadorian cuisine is the best in the world. I truly believe that. From the products, the flavors, the intriguing aspects, to the popular culinary culture… our basic, village recipes have an extremely high level of sophistication. Showing this to the world, using our culinary heritage as a palette to create, is truly a gift for any chef who loves cooking.”
In the culinary world, there are those who cook out of necessity, and then there are those who elevate food to an art form. And then… there are those who elevate the art to a science. The father-son duo of chefs Carlos and Juan Sebastián Gallardo stand out as true examples of something truly unique. Their project, Zero Lab, located in the northern residential neighborhoods of Quito, is making waves in the country’s culinary scene. Let’s take a closer look at their innovative approach.
The Gallardo Legacy
Considered one of Ecuador’s top culinary researchers, Carlos Gallardo is a culinary virtuoso in his own right who has honed his talent and expertise over decades. A graduate of the French Le Cordon Bleu, with a specialization at the Argentine Institute of Gastronomy (IAG), a lifetime member of the Chaîne des Rotisseurs, and the recipient of national and international awards, including a 5-star Diamond from the US Hospitality Academy (2013), and with 17 publications on Ecuadorian products, his dedication to perfection and an insatiable thirst for culinary innovation have quickly made him a recognized chef in the country.
Juan Sebastián, on the other hand, follows closely in his father’s footsteps. Talent undoubtedly runs in the family. From a young age, he was captivated by cooking, spending countless hours alongside his father, absorbing wisdom and experience. Today, he has honed his skills through formal culinary education and working alongside his father in this fabulous project. The result? Chefs who seamlessly blend tradition and innovation, creating beautiful dishes that delight the senses.
Zero Lab: A Culinary Revolution
In 2020, the Gallardo chefs embarked on a new chapter by opening Zero Lab in Quito. This avant-garde restaurant represents the culmination of their shared culinary vision, a place where traditional techniques merge with technology and innovation, placing Ecuadorian products above all else. Zero Lab produces its own vinegars, its own ferments—among its working tools is a microscope!—its own marinades, chocolate, dried fruit… This is not only a restaurant.
Zero Lab emphasizes sustainability, seasonality, and locally sourced ingredients. The menu is a dynamic canvas that changes with the seasons, ensuring that each visit offers a fresh and exciting approach, an experience that goes beyond the flavors of the ingredients.
Within its “fine-dining” concept, we find “sensory experiences”, included in their tasting menus. These experiences involve temporarily removing one of the diner’s senses, such as sight, for a minute or more, allowing the aromas of the food to envelop them before taking a bite.
The Gallardos constantly push the boundaries of their culinary skills; sometimes measuring the exact temperature of a brew or the amount of bacteria needed for the perfect fermentation, and other times, it’s pure art, captivating the imagination with unexpected textures and combinations… using cutting-edge methods to create dishes that are as visually stunning as they are delicious.
Let’s hear it in their own words: “We have a Cotopaxi lamb ‘seco de chivo’ stew-lollipop; a ‘mini giant’ with ‘papa cuchi,’ stuffed with ‘guatita’ from La Maná; cured ‘guinea pig’ with tamarind and ‘chicha’ sauce; white, sexy, fancy, flirty, shrimp with ‘Chillo’ corn; a delicious ‘Quevedo’ fried rice wrapped in llama slices; our Coastal beef foot; Cayambe trout; a ‘ceviche volquetero from Puyo and the tastiest of Ecuadorian rice —’cocolón’— pickled with Galapagos Scorpionfish…”
That describes only one dish, highly recommended by the way: the Taita Grande, a “curate” of Ecuadorian culinary inspirations that, as you can tell from the names, take us on a journey throughout the country: to Quevedo, Cotopaxi, Sangolquí, Cayambe, Puyo… an unforgettable starter.
We continue with a fine cut of belly pork, fed in the rural Karanki countryside, smoked with eucalyptus and cooked for 72 hours sous-vide, with a crispy covering of its own skin, served with two varieties of chimichurri, ‘humita,’ and fried corn. Or why not try some shrimp with tuna ‘corviches,’ with delicate coconut textures, flavored with endemic herbs such as ‘chillangua’ and ‘chillarán’…
Zero Lab celebrates the rich variety of Ecuadorian food like few have attempted before. You leave with the idea that there is so much to explore within our own palate of flavors and that, thanks to visionaries like the Gallardos, we are in good hands. Ecuadorian ingredients now have the culinary talent to make them shine!
Text: Ilán Greenfield
Photos: Carlos Puga