Inspirational chef and restaurateur flying the flag for the Philippines
Mention cooking in the Philippines and it won’t be long before Margarita Forés pops up in conversation, such is her fame throughout households and restaurants across the islands. Ever since she packed her bags and flew to Italy in 1986 for a crash course in cooking and language, the hugely popular chef has impressed local and international diners with her primarily Italian cuisine, despite never undergoing any formal training.
Over the last decade and beyond, Forés has taken her learnings from the Italian markets and homes where she cut her culinary teeth and applied them to an array of restaurants in the Philippines. The portfolio includes her 18-year-old casual dining chain Cibo, the well-established Lusso, relative newcomer Grace Park and Alta, in the Ascott at the Bonifacio Global City, where she runs the hotel’s food and beverage operations.
The majority of Forés’s restaurants are focused on the pleasures of Italian dining, but each has its own niche, with Cibo focusing on more traditional fare and Lusso on champagne and refined comfort food, for example. Signature dishes include classics such as penne al telefono and tiramisu croccante at Cibo; the Pepato short ribs at Lusso; and 24-hour sous vide pork chop at Alta.
Meanwhile Grace Park, which opened in 2013 in Makati City, outside Manila, champions homegrown ingredients including Bulacan river prawns and Muscovado beef belly, embracing the farm-to-table philosophy. Named after Forés’s ancestral home, Grace Park also celebrates her memories of childhood feasts, not only through the freshness of her ingredients but also in the playfulness of the food. Her savoury Eton Mess replaces strawberries with pancetta and bacon while the meringue is laced with truffle oil, thus reinventing the classic dessert with the introduction of smoke and earth.
The gregarious chef’s empire extends to 28-year-old catering company Cibo di M, where she has fed the likes of former Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and the King and Queen of Spain. Meanwhile, her Gastroteca di M, Providore range showcases packaged artisanal delicatessen products and home-cooking options that allow fans of her restaurants to recreate her simpler dishes in their own kitchens. She has also launched a floral artistry line and a home and tableware collection.
Finally, bringing her career full circle, Forés recently opened Casa Artusi Philippines, the first Asian campus of the renowned Italian culinary school. Spreading her influence beyond the region, Forés was chosen last year as a headline speaker at Madrid Fusion Manila, the first and only Asian edition of the international gastronomy congress. Her new title of Asia’s Best Female Chef is a fitting and well-earned recognition of her vast array of achievements in the Philippines and beyond.