A Quick Chat With Margarita Fores, Asia’s Best Female Chef of 2016January 13, 2016
- Michelle V. AyuyaoWords
Margarita Fores is in the next table, fighting back tears and failing tremendously. All around, phones and cameras are aimed directly at her. As she attempts to piece herself together, the rest of the room remains in silent shock. There are around a dozen people inside Fores’s Lusso, that were invited just a few weeks ago with the promise of a worthwhile afternoon. Exceeding all expectations, the afternoon of mystery led to an announcement, which Fores had learned just a few hours prior: Margarita Fores had been declared Asia’s Best Female Chef 2016, by Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants.
The weeks that lead up to the awards ceremony, which takes place at the end of February, will undoubtedly roll out like a red carpet walk for Fores. Before all talks of future projects flood her mind, she shares the thoughts and visions of her past, that have come to shape her astounding present.
What is your earliest memory of taste? Our family celebrations were always filled with food from Negros. There’s this special ukoy that’s made by dropping shrimp-flavored rice flour into a vat with oil, and apparently people gather it together with their hands. They make little patties. And this ukoy is nearly extinct, just one lady makes it now. It’s really an amazing flavor because it’s just fried rice flour that’s flavored with shrimp. I remember distinctly that it would be wrapped in this wax paper. I would reach up at the buffet table for these yummy crumbs of oil.
What’s the first thing you learned how to cook? You know what? Pasta with butter and cheese, as an eight year old, with my mom’s cook. I would go with my nanny to Unimart and walk through the aisle for pasta, and there were maybe 30 different shapes of Ronzoni. It amused me to high heavens! From the little alphabets and macaronis, to the longer things, I think I would force her to buy as many as possible. Then I would come home and I would try to cook it with just butter and cheese.
Tell me about your kitchen principles. Only be in there when there is positivity in you. I feel that whatever energy you’re feeling personally is transferred in a non-tangible way to whoever you’re cooking for. So I think that it’s a must to have a sense of enjoyment, which leads to fulfillment.
On bad days, what dish do you turn to for comfort? Ayayay! Talangka and buttered rice! Always! That’s my feel-good food.
One ingredient you cannot live without? Boy, that’s a thought. There’s many. Maybe too much to say taba ng talangka again! But it’s what pops in my head! As of late though, a good tomato grown in the Philippines, you know what I mean? For a change. We’ve never had that before and there’s tons now!
What makes good food? A lot of balance in flavors and things that are not so contrived. A lot of simplicity as well, to be able to focus on flavors when there aren’t too many.
Top three artists on your dinner playlist? Simply Red, Nat King Cole, and I guess an Italian pop artist like Laura Pausini. Yeah, probably something really cheesy. You know, putting Cibo together, that is the music I insisted on using, so now it’s what’s stuck in my head.
What is the one dish that defined your career? I really think it’s the water spinach crab ravioli with calamansi cream and taba ng talangka.
Who inspires how you cook? I think the people that have supported me through the years, the ones that have walked through all the restaurant doors I have opened. Pleasing my son is also a real challenge. His palate is so evolved. To think he only used to eat combination number five in McDonald’s growing up, and I had to force him to try new things. He and my brother Oye—they’re my toughest critics. But they also make me happiest when they’re happy.
Italy or New York? No! Tough choice! It can’t be both? Well if I really had to choose, I guess Italy.
What is the most underrated ingredient, in your opinion? I think Philippine seafood. Many of us have encountered it not handled the right way, and now there’s this newfound awareness for preparing it. Now you can get a really nicely grilled fish and that’s a good thing!
The national dish in the Philippines may be adobo, but if you could decide, what would it be? Judging from our experience in Madrid Fusion, I’d like to think that it could be kinilaw. You find one in every part of the Philippines, not just in coastal areas, but I think everywhere. Everybody has their own version of preparing something that’s cooked in vinegar, whether it’s meat, or goat innards. It’s not what everybody will choose instantly, but maybe for foreign eyes to have singled [kinilaw] out, it also made my understand why [Madrid Fusion] focused on that.
What is the identity of Filipino food in the world? I’m really happy to say it is absolutely positive in 2016. It has been a long journey and I’m really thankful and blessed that I’m doing what I’m doing, when people are loving our food.
What are you thinking right now? Well, you know, I’m thinking I’m overjoyed but I know the responsibility that comes with this is through the roof. I have to regroup and strengthen the structure of everything that I’m doing. To live up to the honor that’s been given to me. It’s that. The responsibility.
One last thing. How does it feel like knowing you’re now the Best? Oh you know when they say, “the best,” it makes me happy but it also reminds me that there is so much that comes with being told you are the best. Am I really?
As we end, she fumbles with her words saying, “I’m dying. I’m really dying. I feel like Miss Universe and I hope they don’t pull a Miss Colombia and take it away from me!” There has always been something refreshingly silly, yet admirable, about Margarita Fores, that has made the Philippines adore her throughout the years. It is so fitting then, that her victory comes to represent the country’s triumph as well.