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Margherita Forés is the Filipino chef that found her love for food a long way home. A visit to Italy three decades ago first ignited her passion for authentic Italian cooking. A passion which has persisted and since fused with her heritage to shape a lifetime's culinary ambitions back in her home country.
Besides running a restaurant empire in the Philippines, which began with her first Italian restaurant, Cibo, in 1997 Margarita Forés remains a tireless ambassador for food within her home country even opening the first ever Asian Campus of the renewed Italian culinary school Casa Artusi. In 2016 she was recognised as Asia’s Best Female Chef 2016.
Forés will also be one of the distinguished international chefs on the jury of the Seven Sages at S.Pellegrino Young Chef 2018, helping to decide the winner of the most exciting talent search for the best young chef in the world.
We caught up with Forés to talk about the importance of how she fell learnt to fall in love with her own country's food and why making mistakes should be encouraged.
What’s exciting you in the world of contemporary Philippine cuisine?
Our cuisine is getting recognized internationally. This is exciting not only for the people in the local food industry, but for the rest of the nation too as we get to introduce every-one to how rich our culture is, and how unique and diverse our cuisine, and ingredients are. This vibrant new interest in all things Filipino, will benefit not only those of us who are stakeholders in the industry but will also give a very welcome push to our small Filipino farmers, artisans, and home cooks.
What did winning Asia's Best Female Chef 2016 mean for you both personally and professionally?
I’d like to think that it was an absolute validation of all the work that I have done for the last 30 years. On a personal level, it makes me appreciate all the challenges that I have gone through to get to where I am today. It reassures me that all that effort was worth it!
Perhaps the best gift that this award has brought me professionally is that it has given me the opportunity to get to know my peers in the industry, worldwide. Because of this award, I have been asked to participate in events, this San Pellegrino Young Chefs 2018 being one of the best examples, and all of these opportunities have just been so priceless! They have brought me countless opportunities to share my passion with others, but more importantly, they have given me the blessed chance be a voice, pushing for my country, its culture, cuisine, and uniqueness, to the world. This, for me is the ultimate gift.
Philippine and Italian culture and cuisine are both close to your heart. How do you capture the flavours of Italy while promoting local ingredients?
It was an absolute blessing that I started my work in Italy, where people have the utmost respect for the quality of ingredients and honor the integrity and simplicity of their cooking. The base of my cooking has always been that - honest, simple, and yet open to youthful innovation. Through the years, Italian technique and its simplicity has guided my work, and this has reawakened an enthusiastic appreciation for my own cuisine. While my journey started with wanting to learn more about Italian cuisine, I feel so blessed to have rekindled my love affair with my own cuisine.
What advice would you offer to the young chefs in the S.Pellegrino Young Chef competition?
Make your own personal experiences bring the uniqueness to your vision and your work. Always be a sponge and absorb all the beautiful, inspiring things you encounter. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. And when you do make a mistake, learn from it. Throughout my life, the biggest lessons I have gained and used to face the challenges that I inevitably have come to face after 3 decades in the industry, are those learned from mistakes and failures. To you young chefs, do the same.
What do you remember as your biggest success and biggest mistake as a young chef?
Success: Standing my ground and introducing Filipinos to authentic Italian food, even when it was very challenging, two decades ago.
Mistake: As a carefree young person when I started, not realizing that this industry is not about the distracting recognition and accolades one can get from serving up great food, but that the most important lesson one needs to learn at the onset is that discipline, regiment, absolute responsibility and hard work are pre-requisites to succeed in this industry.
Any more forthcoming projects that you would like to tell us about?
Reopening my signature restaurant, and opening a heritage Filipino cuisine food hall.