Pinoy Chef You Should Know: Margarita Fores
The culinary icon talks about Grace Park, her newest restaurant; working for Valentino; and the secret to Cibo's success.
After impressing the international community at a Filipino luncheon hosted by the Department of Agriculture in Paris, culinary icon Margarita Fores took some time off from her busy schedule to sit and chat with us in Grace Park, her newest restaurant.
"When we got the space for Grace Park, we knew exactly what to do.
It's actually farmhouse cooking," says Margarita Fores on her newest resto.
Can you tell us what Grace Park is about?
My partner Alvin Lim and I have been going to places like Vinegar Hill House and Joseph Leonard in New York, all these farm-to-table restaurants. This is the kind of food that has been inspiring us for the last two years. When we got the space for Grace Park, we knew exactly what to do. It's actually farmhouse cooking.
Basically, it’s cooking dishes the way we would do it at home. We try to use organic or sustainably grown produce when we can. Most of the food in Grace Park is actually Alvin’s, because he’s the one that is very much into this rustic style of cooking.
What do you think is the secret to the success of your restaurants?
It's the staff at my restaurants, the ones who have been there from the start. Now, they're the core managing team and quality control officers of Cibo. It's about learning how to delegate. You have to learn how to clone yourself.
What was your favorite dish as a child?
Pasta with butter and cheese. I remember going through the aisles of Unimart and checking out all these pasta shapes by Ronzoni. Then we’d come home with these different kinds of pasta and ask the cook to prepare it with just butter and cheese.
When did you realize you wanted to become a chef?
When I was working for Valentino in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, that was when this love affair with all things Italian began. Fashion was okay, but what I really got passionate about was cooking at home and inviting friends over to try my food. I saw Robin Leach’s Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous on TV—it was an episode on Lorenza de Medici and her cooking school in Tuscany. I was blown away! A friend studying in Florence found me an Italian signora that could teach me how to cook. So I went, and that's how everything began.
How has the local culinary scene changed since then?
The industry has learned to become more supportive of each other. Everyone has their own talent—the ideas are countless. You cannot claim anything to be just yours. we need to check our egos at the door, because we all learn from each other anyway. I’m happy that the industry is so vibrant and that there are so many new concepts coming up. However, it does keep you on your toes. As they say, "matira ang matibay!"
Photography by Miguel Nacianceno | Zee Castro-Talampas and Chinkee Clemente-Koppe