The salad bar at Gourmet Farms is still a main attraction.
Where mind-blowing food is sexy
THE BACONMAN COMETH - Sharwin Tee (The Philippine Star) - January 16, 2020 - 12:00am

Once, in an interview, I commented on how the food world is so similar to the world of fashion. It relies heavily on subjective tastes, there is a distinction between haute and accessible, both worlds experience a lot of trends and, most importantly, there is a huge reliance on innovation in order to survive.

Lately, fashion has drawn inspiration from social justice to spur inspiration, and I'm glad the food world is doing the same. I got to observe a couple of examples recently.

Any leftover lettuce is converted into lettuce chips.

Beyond the salad bar

I remember encountering Gourmet Farms during one of our early family trips to Tagaytay. If I recall correctly, it was a one-story log cabin-type establishment where I enjoyed my first salad bar. Newly initiated into the world of salad (and raring to show my parents that I was a “big boy”), I attacked that salad bar with gusto, layering fresh lettuce greens with Thousand Island dressing, hardboiled egg, sweet ham and carrots.

The little kid in me rejoiced when I got to visit Gourmet Farms again recently. The first thing I did when I got to the salad bar was recreate the first salad I made as a boy, and I have to say, 15 years of working in the culinary industry has not dulled my enthusiasm for a fresh green salad with Thousand Island dressing.

Everything else, however, was way different from what I remember. Gone is the simple cabin that served as a restaurant. Now there is a cavernous space for a restaurant, plus a general store filled with all of the farm’s best products. For chefs and anyone who appreciates good food, that general store is the stuff of dreams: rows and rows of fresh greens, homemade bottled sauces and condiments, healthful snacks and lots of great coffee options.

Of particular interest to me, even though I don’t drink as much coffee as others, were their coffee products and the innovative ways they can be enjoyed on the go. They offer drip coffee where even the filter (which fits onto any standard coffee mug) is provided in the sachet. All you need is a mug and hot water. Then they showed us an even more innovative product that’s set to hit stores by the end of the year.

Gourmet Farms will soon introduce a paper pack with a spout. All one has to do is pour hot water into the pack, reseal it, let the coffee steep. Then, one can open the spout and pour the coffee into a mug. Gourmet Farms’ head of marketing, Roldan Capito, seeing the amazed look on my face during the demo, told me that there should be no more excuses about enjoying a great cup of coffee. They want to show that their great coffee can be prepared just as quick as instant coffee.

Their work with coffee goes beyond just innovations, though. Capito also revealed to me the astonishing fact that the Philippines enjoys as much as 130,000 tons of coffee a month and the Philippines only produces 25,000 to 30,000 tons a month. That means that we import way too much coffee just to fulfill our needs. By continuing to produce more and more coffee products, Gourmet Farms is hoping to empower more Filipino coffee farmers to plant and produce more coffee. They have established relationships with farmers across the country, making sure to collect and buy the farmers’ harvests to help them thrive. 

Meanwhile, within its fences, Gourmet Farms have also innovated to remain sustainable. Right before lunch, I got to enjoy their lettuce chips. Everyone loves something crunchy to snack on, so why not use one of their main products? Most of the time, restaurants and grocery stores only purchase “perfect” lettuce, throwing away ones with slight brown flecks or imperfections (which are perfectly edible). They use these “imperfect” lettuce leaves to make tortilla chips, making sure nothing is wasted. Not only is it a great way to keep the farm sustainable, it helps with the company bottom line, too!

Gourmet Farms have made innovations on how to enjoy brewed coffee quickly.

Growing a buffet

Makati Shangri-La has been a fixture in the Makati dining scene for over 25 years but that doesn’t mean they don’t want or need to innovate. Recently, they held an event for World Food Day and they revealed their latest innovation. Since they have some open spaces on their sprawling property, they’ve decided to create their very own herb garden. The Shangri-La team showed us to the area designated for the garden, and I could sense the growing excitement in them.

Jan Anne Ocampo from the Shangri-La F&B team shared her hope with me that if the garden can grow well enough, it can sustain all the herb needs for all their restaurants. Much like Gourmet Farms, keeping your place sustainable would help both the environment and their business bottom lines as well.

Over lunch, I got to chat with executive chef Nicola Canuti and he could barely contain his excitement as well. He shared how he and Shangri-La have been concerned about food wastage in preparing daily buffets, so they’ve upgraded their inventory systems and they closely monitor the amounts of food they prepare daily. When their herb garden comes along, that will only help in their efforts to reduce food waste and their carbon footprint, while providing better-tasting food.

Gourmet Farms prides itself on empowering local coffee farmers.

It’s not just them

Over the past few years, I’ve tried my best to champion the importance of social and environmental responsibility in the food industry, particularly with using local products. I see a lot of establishments are doing the same. This really makes me excited because it signals that maybe innovations in the restaurant industry won’t only be to showcase talent or fulfill a need to be unique or avant-garde. I’m looking forward to seeing innovations in the restaurant industry that would give us mind-blowing food and wonderful dining experiences, while still leaving the world a better place for future generations. Now, that is truly delicious.

* * *

Sharwin’s book, So, You Want To Be A Chef? is available in all National Book Stores and Powerbooks nationwide. Follow Sharwin’s food adventures on Instagram @chefsharwin and for questions, reactions, recipe and column suggestions, you can contact him on www.sharwintee.com.

GOURMET FARMS JAN ANNE OCAMPO NICOLA CANUTI
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