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Chef ‘on the fly’

From Hong Kong to the Philippines, Gaita Fores harvests love for heritage cuisine

Chef Margarita “Gaita” Fores is evidently in love with her country’s own food. Even though she has been associated with Italian food, being the woman behind the chain of Cibo restaurants and another Italian/Mediterranean dining outlet, Lusso, Fores never fails to shine the spotlight on Filipino ingredients and food.

Love for heritage cuisine
The chef/restaurateur was invited by the Hong Kong Tourism Board (HKTB) to be part of its new marketing campaign called “Best of All, It’s in Hong Kong.”
Asia’s Best Female Chef of 2016 shared that it was in Hong Kong that she found her true calling way back in 1982. Fores worked in an investment bank in Hong Kong for a year. She recalled that it was during her stay there that she was able to start appreciating good food.
The island nation has long been considered as Asia’s culinary capital with its diverse cuisine influenced by mainland China and visiting foreigners who came to love the city and started to live there.
It was in Hong Kong that she came to explore not just the exciting array of fusion creations, but most important, traditional Chinese and Hong Kong fares that feature heritage ingredients.
So it was not difficult for her to agree to be part of HKTB’s marketing campaign in addition to having the honor to be the sole woman, and moreover have the privilege to star alongside one of her culinary idols, three Michelin-starred chef Umberto Bombana, in the TVC.
Chef Gaita put to good use her love for Hong Kong’s heritage and popular ingredients and her love for everything Filipino when she prepared the specially-crafted menu for the campaign’s launch held late last month.
It was a wonderful mix of Hong Kong’s best like her reinterpretation of Little Bao’s famous bao burgers, which she recreated with ingredients like cuchinillo and Philippine mangoes. Her take on the Shanghainese Hairy Crab was infused with more sweetness using a Negros muscovado glaze and calamansi perfume.  
Another Hong Kong dish, the glazed pork spareribs in plum sauce, got a Filipino twist with the Angus short rib cooked adobo-style and with Davao chocolate, served with pickled bitter gourd or ampalaya and palm-heart atchara. For dessert, she fused Hong Kong’s love affair for salted egg and red bean paste with her ingenious combination of salted egg panna cotta and red bean ensaymada.
Chef Gaita’s love affair with food obviously has no boundaries. To ably incorporate distinct ingredients often associated with a particular cuisine and come up with flavors that harmoniously go together comes not just from over three decades of manning the kitchens, but from a genuine love for food.
Tops in her choice is our very own food, which has come a long way in the last five years.
“I think the minute that we start to love our own food...that’s why all of a sudden, I think the world now loves our food. I think nowadays we are so proud of our sinigang, kinilaw. And it took us falling in love with our own cuisine and own food, and I think that’s why the world loves our food, too,” shared the chef, who is among the proponents of the Madrid Fusion Manila, which is also set to commence again this year from April 6 to 8.
To further fan that love for our own heritage cuisine, chef Gaita stars in a four-part, 30-minute show that aims to shine the spotlight on our own unique ingredients.
In Harvest with Margarita Fores, chef Gaita gets to travel places, meet people and cook on the spot a new dish that is inspired from the place’s most iconic food.
In a teaser video for the show, which premieres tonight at 7 p.m. and airs every Saturday on CNN Philippines, the chef went to Bicol and tried out extracting coconut milk the way it has been traditionally done — saddling a makeshift grater that is composed of a piece of wood about two feet long with a grater nailed at one of its ends.
“I still need to have a little bit of practice, but I think it will come naturally. I’m looking forward to a little bit being at home with the camera following me around,” shared Gaita, who revealed she has also come to learn how to be precise whenever describing a dish or procedure, which she was not able to practice when she appeared in another CNN culinary show entitled Culinary Journeys.  
“What you see on screen is pretty much how I am. I’m a very spontaneous person. A lot of those off thoughts were real. What’s nice about the show is that the dishes are not pre-planned. I cook onsite. They are all thought of when I get to the place, from what I learned from the resource person for the episode. It’s really on the fly. I’m forced to push my creative juices to do something unique for the first time,” ended Fores.

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