Margarita Forés has been in and around the Philippines recently for her culinary travel series on CNN Philippines, Harvest, but we got a chance to sit down with her in between filming to talk about her most memorable experiences with food.
Ironically, Margarita admits that her fondest memories so far aren’t food or art-related. “Each place has something different—cuisine-wise, ingredients-wise, even crafts-wise! But I think what’s a given everywhere is really how warm the people are all over our country. They’re always so giving. They always want to feed you. And [they always] ask what they can do for you next. If there’s any memory I take with me every time I go out of Manila, it’s the warmth of the people,” she says.
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One memory that does stick with her happened several years ago, right after she finished her training abroad. “I spent some time in Venice and saw how they put seafood into a really nice, delicate ravioli. While there, I was already imagining how I could do a crab ravioli, put taba ng talangka on top, then maybe add a nice sour cream sauce with our calamansi. After I came back to the Philippines I learned how taba ng talangka was made. It made me respect the artisan producer who makes taba ng talangka very pure even more. It’s so hard to gather up all the fat from these little crabs! The lady who I learned from… all she can make out of a whole sack (that’s about 15 kilos of talangka) is just seven bottles. It’s just as rare as caviar if you think about the effort that goes into harvesting and making it. If you see her fingers, they’re all knobby and full of crumpled skin. All she does is open the talangka by herself, take whatever fat she can, and sautée it. Taba ng talangka made with such a real labor of love. I think it’s such a prized ingredient. Every time I share it with foreign chefs, they get blown away because the flavor is so unique. That dish is one of the first dishes that made me respect not only farmers but artisan producers that make these special things all over our country even more.”
Margarita has long supported the farm-to-table approach and use of local ingredients in her cooking. Her efforts were duly recognized in what she considers one, if not the most important, highlights of her career: Being named Asia’s Best Female Chef in 2016. “Most of the other chefs who get that award have their signature restaurant on the list of Asia’s list or World’s 50 Best… it means a lot to me because pushing Filipino cuisine and Filipino ingredients forward is something I’ve been working on for many years, and something that my peers in the industry have felt strongly about. If it calls a little bit more attention to the advocacy, I think it’s one of the biggest blessings that the awards brought not just to me, but to our country,” she explains.
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The title holds significance on a personal level, too. “I think that it celebrates my being a female chef, which is very important A lot of people were questioning the award. Why have a Female Chef award? Why not just have a Best Chef award? In the end, it’s a male-driven industry and women have just started making their mark,” she adds.
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Photographs and interview by Jana Jimenez