Interview by Arianna Lim
Margarita Fores’s schedule, already busy on a normal day, has been all but bursting for the last two months. In January the culinary powerhouse behind Cibo, Lusso, and Grace Park was named 2016’s Best Female Chef in Asia by the prestigious Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants. In between numerous other engagements, she sits down with The Edition to discuss our most underrated food, discovering still-unknown ingredients, and what it will take for Filipino cuisine to rank among the world’s best.
What’s been keeping you occupied since you won the award?
Too much! [Laughs] It’s been a little bit of a whirlwind since I found out, kind of life changing. But it has also increased my resolve to keep everything that I’ve been doing in tip-top shape.
Would you say winning this award a responsibility?
Definitely. After 30 years in the business, I always say that there’s still always something new to learn. Being given this kind of recognition at this time in my career, it really emphasized how much more of a responsibility it is, precisely because you know that all eyes are all on your work.
If you could have it any way you wanted, how would you like the award to alter your career?
I feel that winning has given me a larger platform to speak on behalf on the industry, and to also trail blaze much more for our country, our cuisine, our ingredients, and our farmers, who have been doing remarkable things with what our terrain can offer.
At the same time, it’s given me more encouragement to discover a lot more of what the Philippines can offer that we haven’t discovered yet. I always say that it’s a life-long process. I think all of us in the Philippines have had a renewed vision of our country, this renewed love affair with everything local. There are many things that have happened in the last decade that has allowed for this renewed sense of identity and strong feeling about what’s ours, and it’s been a real blessing to be part of that process.
Filipinos are always hoping and predicting that our food will finally make it onto the world stage. Are we there yet?
I think that it’s the start of our being there. The validation has come even from many people in the industry who have foreseen the trends for 2016, and Philippine cuisine has been prominently mentioned. And Madrid Fusión Manila being held in the Philippines for a second time this year, that’s quite remarkable. For the World’s 50 Best to have acknowledged Antonio’s as the first restaurant to get into the Top 50 last year, that opened a lot of doors for us. I think my having been given this recognition is as well part of that whole process of the Philippines and Filipino cuisine finally coming to the fore.
What are some elements of our cuisine that you’d like to see improved, or that you’d like to improve yourself, so that we can say we’ve made it?
I think it’s overcoming that idea that we’re all just about adobo and sinigang and balut! There’s so much of Philippine regional cuisine to celebrate. Even I myself am still discovering a lot of new things. I think that it’s removing the misconceptions, and at the same time trying to showcase what more there is all over the Philippines that we can offer to the world. There are a lot of ingredients that we’ve taken for granted for a long time. Vegetables that we’ve thought were lowly but are actually exotic for an outsider. It’s about putting those things together in a mode of presentation and really offering it up.
What would you say are our most underrated ingredients?
The whole compendium of all the vegetables we have in all the regions, because every time you go to a new province there’s something that you discover that’s not in any other place. There’s thing like the lowly alugbati—now we even use the tendrils and the flowers that we use in salads. Before it just used to just be in a simple soup that people only ate at home. There’s the beautiful Batanes dukban lemon that’s as big as grapefruit; there’s the suha lemon; there’s the tabon-tabon, a very ancient fruit that we use for kinilaw. It’s a preservative that dates back to pre-Hispanic times. I think that’s super exotic and super interesting. We presented it at Madrid Fusión and people went crazy over it because it’s something unique to us.
Before being given this award, what would you say was the defining moment of your career?
I think one of the things was being awarded the honorary Marietta Ad Honorem Award from Casa Artusi Italy. To be accorded recognition by a foreign country for work that I’ve done not only with their cuisine but also to trail blaze being a Filipina—although I guess I took a side trip doing it through Italian food—I think that great relationship allowed me to go full circle. So this one [the Asia’s 50 Best award] is definitely huge swipes of icing on the cake! It’s a real sort of deluge. It’s been really humbling and at the same time very heart-warming. I’m still reeling form the surprise! I’ve been very repetitive about it, but it’s still really quite a shock!
Margarita Fores’ restaurant Cibo is located in Glorietta IV and Greenbelt 5, Ayala Center, Makati City.