5 Reasons Why Margarita Forés Is Empowering The Next Generation Of Filipina Chefs
While working in fashion in New York, a young Margarita Forés found comfort in the food scene influenced by the modern Italian restaurants in the city. Margarita began to master her chosen craft under the guidance of three women—Masha Innoscenti in Florence, Jo Bettoja in Rome, and Ada Parasiliti in Milan—during a four-month stay in Italy. Since then, she has forged a legacy and cultivated a name for herself as a culinary icon. We break down how Margarita Forés serves as an inspiration for the next generation of Filipina chefs.
1. She proves how passion and courage is every woman’s secret weapon.
Margarita was not spared from the pressures of securing a career in the “primary 3:" business, medicine, or law. Instead, she took a leap of faith and began a catering business which gradually gave her the confidence to pursue a professional culinary career. Upon her return to the Philippines in 1987, she was invited to work on a food festival at the Hyatt Regency Manila. In an interview with Yvette Tan for Metro Society (2017), Margarita shares how her dedication and courage allowed her to prove herself and show the industry that she was here to stay: “It was something that got so much media attention because at the time, somebody from my background, much less female, was not supposed to be hovering over a stove and carrying pots and pans and cooking for people. Cooking was not a preferred career choice.”
Plating Gar-Den Salad with Coconut Vinegar, Muscovado Sugar and Mango Rum Dressing with fresh guava and dried green and ripe mangoes and the most beautiful Japanese greens and root crops and an M on the carrot instead of @zaiyuhasegawa ’s smiley!#fourhandsdinner #collab @zaiyuhasegawa Arigato for letting us do this with you! @mariel_bustamante Salamat for being there always! #femalechefs
2. She sets the bar for others to follow.
Margarita founded Cibo in the late 1990s, whose modern Italian casual concept was truly a game changer in the dining scene. Filipinos tend to have specific preferences, and so they’re not quick to jump into trying unfamiliar fare. But Margarita succeeded with Cibo, effectively developing the local palate to appreciate how certain styles and flavors work. As a woman in a male-dominated industry, Margarita chose to show the market how it’s done, never settling or conforming to any standards.
Apart from the Cibo franchise and Cibo di M catering, Margarita established Lusso, inspired by restaurants in Rome, and Grace Park, which pioneered the use of organic produce and native ingredients. She partnered with Las Casas Filipinas De Acuzar in Quezon City to establish their in-house restaurant, Las Casas Manila by Margarita Forés, serving Spanish fare.
3. She is a proud Filipina and an advocate for loving local.
Margarita has helped convert people’s perception of local farming and ingredients, while sparking international awareness and curiosity. Along with other chefs, she pushed for the use of Philippine heirloom rice in an effort to revive the farming culture in the Cordilleras. In 2007, she grew enamored with the idea of going organic while on a trip to Negros Occidental. At present, her restaurants, especially Grace Park and Cibo (which is up to 85% organic), continue to promote the use of local, organic produce, while she incorporates native ingredients into some of her famed recipes. When in the past, we as a culture sustained a colonial mentality (observing Western cuisines as the popular, more upscale choice), we now are influencers.
4. For her, there is no dream too big. Showing us how she can do it all, it’s sky’s the limit.
Margarita proves that you should never settle on your current successes, but continue to feed into that appetite, going beyond what you thought you could achieve.
Today, she runs distinguished restaurants, works with a number of educational programs, is an author, and a television host on Metro Channel’s The Crawl. In 2016, Margarita was named Asia’s Best Female Chef by Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants, and in 2018, she was knighted by the Italian government as a Cavaliere dell’Ordine della Stella d’Italia (Order of the Star of Italy). We can’t help but dream bigger, thanks to a woman who has helped cultivate the culinary world for the better.
5. She is an empowered woman who empowers women.
As a culinary ambassador, Margarita feels a sense of accomplishment in imparting the many lessons she has learned along the way. She shares, “It’s nice to see the younger generation also appreciating the fulfilment that you get from working with your hands.”
Margarita worked on educating foreign perceptions of our local cuisine at exhibits such as the Internationale Grüne Woche in Berlin, Salone del Gusto in Turin, Madrid Fusión, and the Artusi festival in Forlimpopoli. She had also stepped in as a speaker at the Science and Cooking Public Lecture Series at Harvard University from 2016 to 2018. Margarita also co-wrote the book Kulinarya which proudly showcases regional Filipino recipes and techniques.
Margarita Forés’ story—that of a young woman simply finding herself amidst the chaos of “adulting”—lead her to become the Philippines’ most internationally renowned chef and a powerhouse who is paving the way for the next generation.
Photographs by Cholo Dela Vega for Metro Society