Local Farm-to-Table Pioneer Gourmet Farms Has Something New to Say

A brewing weekend oasis with a fresh (emphasis on fresh) twist.
IMAGE BRYLE B. SURALTA

Somebody from the '60s must've rolled their eyes when they heard about the idea of farm-to-table. While the whole movement might trace its roots from as far back as the 1910s, it only started to be taken seriously by, well, hippies. Eventually it expanded to become a worldwide eco-culinary phenomenon.

In the Philippines, we got to it much later. One of its most staunch advocates and pioneers happens to be Gourmet Farms in Silang, Cavite, a brainchild of businessman-producer-farmer-coffee-guy extraordinaire Ernest Escaler. It started as a coffee trading company in the '70s before becoming something much, much more.

From his travels, specifically in Italy (which he considers a second home), Escaler hatched the idea of bringing the concept to the country back in the '80s through Gourmet Cafe and a humble two-hectare estate.

"We started to introduce it (organic concepts) to groceries for people to get to know Gourmet Farms as a brand in Manila," Franchise Operations Paolo Quimson notes.

The uplands in the south, namely Tagaytay, Amadeo, and Silang, seemed like the perfect place to start the movement in the country. Here, the soil is rich and the cool air is suitable for vegetation. We already know that, we suppose.

What we don't know, however, is what has become of Gourmet Farms since. In the '90s, this roadside enclave of sorts was a regular stopover. See, Tagaytay is roughly 10 minutes away from the farm, and some yuppies from Manila saw this as quite the al fresco hangout. Now, tucked in between lush fields and herby milieu, this 12-hectare sanctuary has flowed with the tide of the times.

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"We just stayed the course," he explains. "We kept to our rustic menu, this Italian homegrown feel, comfort from the countryside. Everything is more natural. It's straightforward food and we have fantastic chefs who bring it all together."

Gourmet Farms has managed to keep things as fresh as can be, from the menu to the farm trail to The Sanctuary and the newly minted The Dining Room.

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Daytime in and Around the Farm

A shot of the Sanctuary of St. Joseph; "Regrettably, staycations are not allowed in the retreat facility, as it is dedicated to reflection and learning."

Photo by BRYLE B. SURALTA.

A typical morning at Gourmet Farms tends to have a revolving cast of characters. These are your joggers, bikers, random celebrities, families, and pets strolling through the gravel and the greenery. The smell of arabica and robusta coffee around the air are a delight to the senses. Lettuce production areas and farms and carabaos and farmers adorn the scenic landscape. This is what calm looks like.

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It's most evident in an area called The Sanctuary, a compound that would make for quite the retreat venue, we might add. It's complete with outdoor sitting and meditation areas, 10 rooms (very zen), a chapel, and more. The area looks like a place straight out of the Mediterranean countryside, like an old-timey villa in Como or Tuscany when the light hits just right.

Scenes from the farm.

Photo by BRYLE B. SURALTA.

Let's run through the menu while we're at it. The place is known for its salads, too. One of which is Gourmet Farms' Eggy Caesar. Packed with pancetta, grilled chicken, cherry tomatoes with Romaine lettuce or kale, its poached egg gives it a Mediterranean twist. They say putting eggs in the salad can help absorb more nutrients from the veggies. This is definitely an interesting touch.

Keeping up with the Greek, and Italian sensibilities, the joint serves some fine pizzas. Might we suggest the Spinaci e Ricotta Pizza or a classic margherita? These are freshly baked, bubbly in crust, and incredibly light on the palate.

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The Eggy Ceasar and the Branzino Alla Griglia.

Photo by GOURMET FARMS.

The Espresso Panna Cotta and Maritozzo.

Photo by Gourmet Farms.

These characteristics carry over to other main dishes like the Branzino Alla Griglia and Salmone Al Forno. The former is basically seabass from Batangas topped with homemade Salsa Verde while the latter is rich salmon drenched in Pomodoro sauce with a side of creamy potatoes.

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As for some dessert options, why not go for the Maritozzo? It's said to come from the Italian region of Lazio and has its origins date back to the Roman Empire. It's a favorite there and it's a favorite here.

What Follows in the Evening

At night, this pseudo-Neo-Mediterranean bungalow in the middle of the property lights up the estate. It is as beautiful in its evening glow as it is in its morning bloom. The Dining Room located here is an events space that is Gourmet Farms' newest addition. Here, it's all about the art of gathering, as friends of ours, Ron and Chris, would point out. It's a place best reserved for those big events, maybe a wedding, a reunion, or just intimate conversation.

For our own shindig, the venue was designed by friends of The Dining Room, Bhem and Fred Meijer of Il Fiore Flower Boutique, which is one of the most sought-after tablescaping shops in the south. We, of course, had a nice dinner, prepared by executive chef Enrico “Ico” Molera.

The setting for the evening

Photo by GOURMET FARMS.
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Gourmet Farms Director for Franchise Operations Paolo Quimson and Chef Ico Molera; Quimson, founder Ernest Escaler, with Il Fiore Flower Boutique's Bhem and Fred Meijer.

Photo by GOURMET FARMS.

He started us off with the Insalata di Fattoria, a farm salad with stracciatella cheese and tarragon leaves, as well as roasted pineapple and beets for a little bit of spirit and zest. This was followed by Pasta alla Gricia.

Interestingly, Italian chefs have long deviated from its original recipe (in Italy, it has various regional and provincial versions). Chef Ico's is made with guancale Pecorino Romano and Pasta Fresca. Rendered in cured pork and firm to the mouthfeel, this exquisitely tender dry pasta was our precursor to the main course.

Pesce all'acqua pazza and Zampone e Lenticchie came next. For the first item, the menu read: "fish in crazy water." It is believed that fishermen would use seawater for added flavor. The Zampone e Lenticchie, meanwhile, is the chef's version of a holiday meal boned-out pig's trotter, stuffed with sausage, swimming in lentil stew. It's an Italian tradition.

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The Insalata di Fattoria and Tirmisu al Mango.

Photo by GOURMET FARMS.

The Pasta alla Gricia and Zampone e Lenticchie.

Photo by GOURMET FARMS.

Our dessert was Tirmisu al Mango, a fruity, vibrant mascarpone mixture buried in layers of ladyfingers. Of course, it had mango sauce and, yes, coffee. The Dining Room isn't limited to these selections though. Guests get to pick and choose their own menu once they reserve the bungalow.

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Thinking back to it, the veil of Escaler's love for Rome was lifted by way of everything that grows, glows, and goes around the farm. They call Rome the Eternal City for a reason. Gourmet Farms, perhaps, thinks of its lore as the same thing. Thirty-five years on, it has remained. Through its flora, natural cadence, and continuous reinvention, its charm infinitely lingers.

Gourmet Farms is located at KM 52, Aguinaldo Highway in Silang, Cavite.

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About The Author
Bryle B. Suralta
Assistant Section Editor
Bryle B. Suralta is the assistant section editor of Esquire Philippines.
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