Reminiscing with Margarita Forés

Summers in sugar country, unusual discoveries, and bringing back an old favorite.
IMAGE UNICEF Philippines

We caught up with Margarita Forés, famed restaurateur and host of CNN’s Harvest, at this year’s UNICEF Ball. Joining fellow award-winning chefs Bo Songvisava, Lanshu Chen and Vicky Lau, Asia’s Best Female Chef for 2016 helped create the menu for the UNICEF Children’s Ball, which benefits children with disabilities in the Philippines. Here, she shares with us the childhood memories which inspire her, the most unusual dish she’s discovered, and her plans for the future.

On childhood memories:

"A lot of my child summers were spent going back to Negros Occidental, my home province, which is sugar country, since my family is based in Manila. I can still almost smell the aroma of raw sugar, our house being beside a sugar mill. All the food that we enjoyed then inspired the dishes we are now preparing."

On unexpected discoveries:

"The fish dish that I’m doing highlights a fish that I’ve newly discovered during a trip to Bohol. I never knew that we have this beautiful white Marlin, since it’s very difficult to find fatty fishes in the Philippines. This Marlin is nice and moist, and I’m using it together with the flavors that come with this very old fashioned home-style dish which was always on our dining table growing up. It’s a coconut stew of crabs, with corn and bamboo shoots. The combination of all those ingredients brings back memories of big parties where this was the rich dish on the table. Incorporating something new to it, instead of just using plain coconut milk, I smoked it the way they do in Mindanao, adding more depth to the flavor of the coconut milk, and I’m topping it off with my most favorite ingredient, not just now but since my childhood, taba ng talangka. I could eat it out of a jar with a spoon.


On the most unusual dish she’s found on her travels:

"Nilagpang is a soup which showcases Filipino ingenuity and the talent of the Filipino not to waste anything. Made out of inasal trimmings, they steep the grilled chicken and some grilled tomatoes in a broth made with lemon grass, ginger and green onions. It’s so interesting because the broth tasted so clean and yet the depth of that smoky flavor gave it such a unique character. I was blown away because something that resembled recycling–trimmings from a barbeque–turned into this beautiful dish. And to find out that it was a dish from the Visayas made me even happier."

On what’s changed since winning Asia’s Best Female Chef Asia 2016:

"It’s been a whirlwind because it was totally unexpected. The other chefs who won previously, their countries’ culinary industries are a little bit more evolved and established. I think that we are now coming into our own, but Taiwan, Thailand and Hong Kong have been food centers for so many years, and it’s wonderful that they did take notice of what we are doing in the Philippines. It lends much promise to what the future is for our food scene; everything is just looking up."

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On what’s next for her:

"I want to continue fine-tuning what I have, but at the same time I have a small plan to re-establish my signature restaurant, smaller this time around than when I closed it in 2010. People want more special tasting menus and food that’s a little more particular, so I’m looking to do something more intimate. I hope to open it this year or early 2018. It’s a good time to do it."

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Christopher Puhm
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