Manila Bulletin

Har­vest with Mar­garita Fores

A new show on CNN takes us a jour­ney with 2016's Asia's Best Fe­male Chef

- A new show on CNN takes us on a jour­ney with 2016’s Asia’s Best Fe­male Chef

Just about a year ago, Mar­garita Fores was named Asia’s Best Fe­male Chef for 2016. From that day, many things had changed for her. She hasn’t changed though. She still wants to feed you. She still has a way of talk­ing, a pas­sion for what she is do­ing, a vi­brancy that draws you in and in­fects you to be just as ex­cited as she is, over what­ever it is that she is talk­ing about. Usu­ally, those things are the things close to her heart—or­gan­i­cally grown pro­duce, slow food, and Filipino food.

It wasn’t al­ways so though; when her first restau­rants Cibo, and then Pepato opened, many of the in­gre­di­ents she used were im­ported. “I kept try­ing to find lo­cal al­ter­na­tives at the on­set. When I first got back to Manila, the big­gest chal­lenge for me was find­ing toma­toes that were like the toma­toes in Italy!” Her chal­lenge at the time, she says, was dis­cov­er­ing how dif­fer­ent lo­cal toma­toes were, and find­ing the herbs that she got used to us­ing in Italy. “There was noth­ing in Manila ex­cept a lit­tle bit of basil and maybe some ru­cola (arugula) that my un­cle was grow­ing in the house in Cubao,” she ex­plained. Mar­garita worked closely with Old Man Kano (he has since passed away, but he was the first to grow dif­fer­ent let­tuce va­ri­eties and herbs in Ta­gay­tay) to be able to get hold of the in­gre­di­ents that she needed. “What was nice was that al­though he was the one who started it, and Gourmet Farms came next, lit­tle by lit­tle the in­dus­try opened up. Dur­ing that time, in the late ‘80s, chefs were a lit­tle bit more self­ish in want­ing to keep these spe­cial in­gre­di­ents to them­selves.” Now, she says, things are dif­fer­ent. “We chefs have re­al­ized that if we don’t share among our­selves in the in­dus­try, the farm­ers will never sur­vive. We need to cre­ate larger mar­kets for them, and for the in­dus­try, so that prices drop and more peo­ple are en­cour­aged to go into farm­ing,” she pointed out.

Her words, in sup­port of our farm­ers and pro­duc­ers, are quite apt given that the name of her new culi­nary travel show with CNN Philip­pines is Har­vest with Mar­garita Fores. The four­part, 30-minute se­ries pre­mieres on Feb. 18 at 7 p.m. on CNN Philip­pines, and will fol­low Mar­garita as she ex­plores key des­ti­na­tions in the Philip­pines and the unique in­gre­di­ents they are known for.

The se­ries comes at just the right time. In the past two or three years, there has been so much in­ter­est in Filipino food and in­gre­di­ents, both lo­cally and in­ter­na­tion­ally. Some of it is be­cause of culi­nary and travel-re­lated in­ter­na­tional shows that have come to the Philip­pines to film episodes, or new restau­rants owned by Filipino chefs that have be­gun to make waves in the US, or even Madrid Fusion Manila, which will be on its third year this 2017. But Mar­garita also be­lieves that it is be­cause of Filipinos them­selves. “I think it took us fall­ing in love with our food. Now the world loves our food, too,” she said.

When I asked her what her next chap­ter would be af­ter her Asia’s Best Fe­male Chef win and her new Har­vest se­ries with CNN, she replied, “Well, I think con­tin­u­ing to sort of go with this new groundswel­l of lov­ing our own in­gre­di­ents and lov­ing our own pro­duce. And dis­cov­er­ing as well, maybe old ways of cook­ing that we never knew about be­cause they were so iso­lated in the dif­fer­ent re­gions. Her face lights up as she talks about the new dis­cov­er­ies that will be fea­tured on her show, “Every time I travel there’s al­ways a new dish that blows my mind that I didn’t know ex­isted. On re­cent trips to Min­danao, I’ve just learned about tribal cook­ing, which, I think, is just in­cred­i­ble be­cause then there are so many more things to learn from these com­mu­ni­ties that we didn’t re­ally know about. So I think that there’s so much more that we’ll be able to dis­cover and I think that the chance to do Har­vest with CNN is giv­ing me so much more of an op­por­tu­nity to do that.” Dur­ing the launch for Har­vest

with Mar­garita Fores we were given a sneak pre­view of one episode that was filmed in Bi­col. The show is en­gag­ing and very per­sonal, pretty much just the same as Mar­garita in real life. She shows a gen­uine in­ter­est in the peo­ple she talks to, and on screen, she is just as ex­cited as she is in real life to learn about new dishes and cook­ing meth­ods. “It’s like snow!” she ex­claimed in one scene, when she learns how to open up a co­conut and scrape out the co­conut meat. “The dishes that I cook on the show were not planned,” she says, “they de­pended on what I saw and learned on-site.” All in all, her show is a sign of good things to come. I hope that our lo­cal culi­nary shows will con­tinue to be as well pro­duced as this one is. Some of the episodes in­clude vis­its to farms. To Mar­garita, much of the fu­ture of the culi­nary in­dus­try lies in agri­cul­ture, and she is happy that the next gen­er­a­tion is very much into farm­ing. “Like I al­ways say, maybe it’s a bless­ing that we never got in­dus­tri­al­ized as far as farm­ing is con­cerned, be­cause to­day the fact that we are so back­ward, we’re in fact quite ad­vanced be­cause we don’t need to undo any­thing—we are still do­ing it (farm­ing) in a very hon­est way.”

She is also happy that younger peo­ple are be­ing more cre­ative and ad­ven­tur­ous, as she tells me peo­ple ex­per­i­ment­ing with cheeses, but­ter, smok­ing eggs, and mak­ing ba­con with or­ganic pigs. Cibo, she tells me proudly, is now close to 80 per­cent or­ganic af­ter 12 years in the busi­ness. From squash she uses at the restau­rant’s pop­u­lar squash soup, to or­ganic chick­ens, free range eggs, and the herbs and veg­eta­bles that are pur­chased from many dif­fer­ent or­ganic farm­ers. Now she wants to move be­yond mar­kets to find farm­ers who have un­earthed long­for­got­ten in­gre­di­ents. “Farm to table has helped to unify the food com­mu­nity in the fight to pro­mote our cui­sine world­wide,” she says. “And there’s a real wealth of all these undis­cov­ered in­gre­di­ents that we chefs are go­ing crazy over. We are all learn­ing from each other.”

What about all the fa­mous chefs she has been able to meet be­cause of the at­ten­tion she has been re­ceiv­ing, I asked. “I used to be like a fan girl, you know!” she ex­claims. “I used to be a su­per fan girl want­ing their au­to­graphs and get­ting a picture with them. But it’s su­per heart­warm­ing and mind-blow­ing that they look at me as a peer.” She laughs as she con­tin­ues: “I think that the best thing about this is that it’s so much eas­ier to get a table at any of their restau­rants all over the world! It’s made the in­dus­try so much smaller!”

She re­calls the day al­most a year ago when she was an­nounced as Asia’s Best Fe­male Chef. “It turned my life around and re­ally changed ev­ery­thing. I think that’s go­ing to stay with me for­ever. It’s a re­ally great honor, but at the same time it also comes with a lot of re­spon­si­bil­ity. I have to con­tinue to trudge along to re­ally share this pas­sion and in­fect a lot of peo­ple in the in­dus­try and even out­side the in­dus­try to feel just as strongly as me about all these things.”

“There’s this won­der­ful wealth of her­itage in our cui­sine that we have taken for granted. But all of us in the in­dus­try feel very strongly about how beautiful our cui­sine is, how rich we are in in­gre­di­ents, how won­der­ful we are as a peo­ple, and it’s an in­fec­tious ad­vo­cacy. It’s great that peo­ple are now re­al­iz­ing that the Philip­pines has all of these won­der­ful trea­sures.”

Har­vest with Mar­garita Fores will pre­miere on Feb. 18, Satur­day, 7 p.m., on CNN Philip­pines Free TV Chan­nel 9 or via live stream­ing on cn­nphilip­

‘I think it took us fall­ing in love with our food. Now the world loves our food, too.’

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 ??  ?? TEAM FORES Asia's best fe­male chef Mar­garita Fores with her team from Lusso
TEAM FORES Asia's best fe­male chef Mar­garita Fores with her team from Lusso
 ??  ?? MADE SPE­CIAL BY MAR­GARITA FLORES From left: Risotti with scampi; Ceasar salad with or­ganic greens; straw­berry tri­fle and choco­late pots de creme; and chicken veronique
MADE SPE­CIAL BY MAR­GARITA FLORES From left: Risotti with scampi; Ceasar salad with or­ganic greens; straw­berry tri­fle and choco­late pots de creme; and chicken veronique
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