Margarita Forés’s Road to Chef Stardom
We trace the Filipina powerhouse from her time in Florence and New York to her current reign over the local culinary scene.
Published on Aug 30, 2016
Filipina chef Margarita Forés founded her food empire by bringing Italian cuisine to her home country after stints living in Florence and New York, but lately she's pivoted towards discovering and exporting Philippine flavors. Though European dishes still dominate at her 10 restaurants, you can experience her creations at Grace Park (+63 2 843 7275), where local spices shine in recipes she's been perfecting since childhood. Here she shares her journey through the country and her favorite finds along the way.
Filipina chef Margarita Forés. By Mark Nicdao.
Naga, 2010 | "In any Filipino market you have this 'sachet economy' so you see all the ingredients for a dish like laing [taro leaves and coconut milk] or 'Bicol express' [creamy pork stew] in one little bag meant for everyday cooking. It's a great way to learn about the local cuisine quickly."
Laing, taro leaves and coconut milk. Courtesy of Kawalingpinoy.com.
Davao, 2011 | "During my visits I met Olive Puentespina of Malagos Farmhouse. She was just starting to make her cheeses, with techniques she learned from a Swiss master. Her family had a goat farm and she makes very complex French-style cheeses using the local milk. It's an exciting discovery that's enriched the culinary scene. There's also beautiful chocolate making a mark now in different parts of the world. I do a braised short rib with an adobo sauce using Davao chocolate."
Malagos Chocolate and French-style cheese from Malagos Farmhouse. Courtesy of Malagos Farms.
Caganyan and the Cordillera, 2014 | "We had the chance to actually plant heirloom rice and bury our feet in the mud the way our farmers have done for centuries. Seeing the women who make the earthenware pots and just discovering our roots was an emotional experience. And there were so many delicacies we didn't even know about: fatty fish from the warm water, lobster, and smoked bacon from wild boars."
Bohol, 2015 | "It was here I realized that each province has its own iconic dish that never reaches Manila. I discovered halang-halang, chicken cooked with coconut, turmeric and lemongrass. There are also interesting ingredients like takla, somewhat like crayfish. They cook it in coconut milk with ginger but I'm just imagining doing it in a pasta with olive oil, garlic and fresh tomatoes."
Halang-halang, chicken cooked with coconut. Courtesy of Kawalingpinoy.com.
Batanes, 2015 | "The terrain looks like you're in Ireland in the summer and because they are so isolated, you see how unique the Ivatan culture is, with Austronesian tribal influences and a language and customs so different from the rest of the country. Due to a lack of infrastructure, very little has changed in terms of their cuisine. They have this beautiful pork confit that they call lunyis, cooked only in salt in an earthen pot over a wood fire, and there's a crab that comes out in the warm season and feeds on coconuts, so it tastes sweet. It's highly protected so you can only eat it there."
Tourist spot in Batanes. Courtesy of Department of Tourism Cagayan Valley Region.
Zamboanga and South Cotobato, 2016 | "This year I want to spend more time in Mindanao, a part of the Philippines that even many Filipinos don't know about. On a recent trip I found this powder called palapa, made from smoked chilies and coconut, with an unusual flavor profile." —AS TOLD TO STEPHANIE ZUBIRI.