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Foodfest by top Pinay chef delights HK gourmets

16 September 2017

By Vir B. Lumicao

Margarita “Gaita” Fores, Asia’s best
female chef of 2016, lords it over at House of
Madison in Wanchai to dish out Filipino cuisine for a day.
When Margarita “Gaita” Fores stormed into Hong Kong on Aug 31, about a hundred local journalists swarmed her “Kain Na!” food-tasting event at House of Madison in Wanchai to sample Filipino cuisine dished out by Asia’s best female chef of 2016.

Excitement and wonder lit up the faces of guests as they moved around the spacious modern kitchen at Madison, which hosts similar food festivals featuring top foreign chefs or cooking workshops for locals as a subtle way of introducing new kitchen technology.

The two-hour gathering kept Fores occupied, mostly with interviews with Hong Kong food writers eager to know more about Filipino fine dining, and why it has nary a presence in a city known for its jungle of eateries and melting pot of tastes.

It’s been decades since the closure of a full-fledged Filipino restaurant called Mabuhay, and the more upmarket Café Adriatico, both in Tsimshatsui, leaving the Philippines unrepresented in Hong Kong’s vibrant world of fine dining.

Was she ready to fill the gap? The SUN asked Fores in a quick interview.

“Of course, I’d love to,” she said, adding excitedly that Filipino cuisine has come of age, supported by players in the country’s spice and produce markets that are aggressively promoting native ingredients to international markets.

“If I’m going to set up here, I’d target the foodies,” she said, explaining that this market segment looks for new ideas and tastes.

But setting up in Hong Kong, where Fores worked in the finance industry before she became a restaurateur, is not in her immediate plans.

She held out the hope, however, that Philippine cuisine will find its place here again because the country’s young culinary talents are ready to take their own ideas of fine dining to foreign markets like this city.

Besides, she said, Filipino food attracts foreigners because of its unique taste drawn from centuries of colonial influences combined with native flavors and exclusively Filipino ingredients.

“Filipino cuisine is well known internationally. We have our lechon and adobo, which are very popular abroad because of their distinctly Filipino flavor.  And now our sisig is also captivating foreigners. The first time they taste it, they get so interested to find out its ingredients,” she said.

Fores runs more than a dozen high-end Italian restaurants in Manila, led by Cibo in Bonifacio Global City and Grace Park in Rockwell, both in Makati.

A Google check of Grace Park’s pricing showed us, for example, that a classic ham and cheese sourdough sandwich costs Php515 and a 500-gram dry-aged prime rib-eye main course has a tag of Php3,800, levels meant for the upper crust.

The event was also a showcase of myriad Philippine organic farm and fishery products  such as rice – regular and heirloom – corn, banana, coffee, cacao, cheese, nuts, ham, pork jerky and sausages, herbs and spices.

“This is our first time to put up a food festival like this in Hong Kong, and we’re  planning to come back for more of it and find new markets for our herbs and spices,” Agriculture Undersecretary Bernadette Romulo Puyat told The SUN.

For the Aug 31 food-tasting, the Department of Agriculture brought Fores’ team of six chefs to Hong Kong, along with lechon de leche (because they did not know where to  source bigger butchered pigs) and other native dishes served with exotic grains such as adlai (Job’s tears) and colorful heirloom rice from the Cordilleras.

Six tables were set up, serving eight cocktail sets of recipes such as barquillos and chive mousse, baby crab fat and fish roe for appetizers; shredded chicken adobo, Amadeo coffee liqueur, boiled adlai and atchara; pork sisig on heirloom rice; tuna kinilaw on fried corn tortilla; seafood sinigang sa batwan, a sour nut from the Negros provinces; and the centerpiece lechon suckling pig.

For dessert, it was servings of heirloom rice suman, mango and pulot crumble as well as maja blanca moderna and halaya glaze.

The aperitifs featuring mixes of native mango or calamansi juice and a range of liquors bottled by Destileria Limtuaco found favor with the guests, as the 165-year-old distillery tested the waters prior to launching into the Hong Kong market.

“We’re ready to market our products here, but we’re still looking for a distributor. We are initially targeting the hotels,” Aaron James Limpe-Aw, business development manager, told The SUN.

Filipino spice and condiments brand Mama Sita’s, which is eager to expand its market in Hong Kong, provided the grains, spices and sauces that Fores used in her dishes.

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