Chef Margarita Forés, Filipina restaurateur and Asia’s Best Female Chef in 2016 (according to Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list), has just been made Cavaliere (honorary Knight) of the Ordine della Stella d’Italia (Order of the Star of Italy). She received the distinction for her culinary feats and friendship with the European country, strengthening the ties between the Philippines and Italy.
The “beer, pizza, pasta, and piadine” ceremony took place at the home of Italian Ambassador to the Philippines Giorgio Guglielmino in Dasmariñas Village, Makati.
She dedicated her newfound knighthood to her mother, Maria Forés, and said, “Thank you for taking me to Italy when I was 10. A love affair started and never ended.”
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Now, everyone probably sees Forés as a knight. She cleans up nicely, but her mettle and metal have been tested. She has fought and won many battles that have made her kneel. She is humbled. But in the end, she stands.
Margarita Forés was born on March 23, 1959 to Raul Forés and Maria Lourdes Araneta. She’s a granddaughter of tycoon J. Amado Araneta, developer of the real estate empire in Cubao. Because of Martial Law, she and her family had to move to New York, the city that would eventually inspire her culinary career. In her twenties, she traveled back to the Philippines and finished her studies in accounting, then went to Hong Kong to work. In the ’80s, Forés found herself back in the newly Italianized NYC. She got a job in the fashion industry as a secretary to fur licensee Valentino’s. Sunday visits to the same midtown American-Italian restaurant piqued her interest in Italian food. Upon the death of her grandfather, she and her family went back to the Philippines, where her interest completely shifted to food.
In August 1986, Forés finally pursued culinary when she stayed in Italy for four months. She studied Italian cuisine and language under three signore—Jo Bettoja in Rome, Masha Innoscenti in Florence, and Ada Parasiliti in Milan. It was also this time when she overcame bulimia.
Returning to Manila, Forés started as a caterer, creating the company Cibo Di M, cooking directly in people’s houses with only two sous chefs assisting her. She ran a successful food festival in a restaurant called Hugo’s at the Hyatt Regency Manila, although she was stigmatized because of her gender, lineage, and privileged upbringing.
Having her son, Amado, in 1990, pushed Forés to sort out her priorities. After hitting rock bottom, she took seed money from her mother to open the first ever Cibo in Glorietta in 1997. The restaurant was a revolutionary concept, a new take on modern Italian—what it is now: casual, attainable, and a lifestyle.
In addition to the Cibo chain, she runs restaurants Grace Park, Lusso, and Alta. Each of these serve Italian cuisine in different ways. Grace Park offers twists on her childhood favorites and Filipino dishes. It opened after Forés recovered from cancer, inspiring her to use predominantly organic ingredients, then uncommon in the country. Meanwhile, Lusso refines comfort food, and Alta her most recent restaurant, is the featured dining spot in Ascott Hotel at BGC, Taguig.
In 2016, Forés appeared on shows like Inspired With Anna Olson and CNN’s TV series Culinary Journeys, and achieved her best chef status with 50 Best Restaurants, for her work in promoting Filipino products both within the Philippines and abroad.