It isn’t hard to see that Chef Margarita Fores is someone who prizes learning. This desire has taken her places—as far as Milan and Madrid to learn the ins and outs of the global food industry. Paradoxically, by seeing what the rest of the world had to offer, it brought about a greater appreciation for her own country’s cuisine, and the determination to bring it out internationally.
She takes Madrid Fusion Manila as an example, with chefs around the world utilizing locally-sourced Filipino ingredients and making their own versions of Filipino cuisine staples. “I think, in the end, we all get inspired from one other idea, so there’s no sort of, super-original creation,” she said. “Everybody gets inspired from everybody else, and it’s in the unique interpretation that you do that can make your own statement.” Delving further, she talked about how they did trade exhibits abroad and worked on Filipino culture fairs. Anything to get word out on Philippine cuisine, no matter how impromptu. Everything she can do on the fly, she did. This was a woman unstoppable with her advocacy of letting the whole world know about what it’s like to be a true blue Filipino through our gastronomy.
In a sense, Chef Fores has mastered the art of give and receive. For every opportunity received, she manages to take something out from it to give to a greater cause. “Doing some work to help the industry as a whole—I think that’s just as important as running tight ships for restaurants,” she said and I am floored by the definitiveness of it. She seems to draw her strength from giving back. There is a phrase that’s used in Filipino—”pagbibigay pugay”—and I couldn’t help but think Margarita Fores is a concrete manifestation of this. But it doesn’t end with the food industry in general. For each anecdote of success, she never fails to cite people or organizations, all those who have lent her a helping hand. It’s almost as if she considers her triumphs as not hers alone, but of other people.
Every collaboration, after all, has brought her to where she was. Recalling the rest of her accomplishments, there is no semblance of boasting, but deep gratitude. “Every experience really taught me to be better the next time around,” she said. “Every experience really lets us get better at it.” And perhaps it is apt to end at this note. For a brief moment, I then recall the amount of nervousness I’d been feeling before the start of the interview—how with an impressive body of work, she had seemed quite elusive, quite far away. It is ironic to think about now, seeing as her work has looked to bring things closer.
I ask one last question then, what would she want to tell other people about success? “When you say success, I never felt like the situation has been perfect ever. I always say that 30 years down the road, I still learn something new everyday,” she said. “I mean, I’ve closed some restaurants, and I think those are the more important lessons than the successes. I guess the best advice I could give those who want to be successful in the industry is that not to be afraid to fail, because the failures are the best opportunities to learn.” Once again, Chef Margarita Fores brings things to perspective. And I couldn’t agree more.