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Philippines’ ‘first Vegan chef’ at helm of The Farm’s new Upperdeck restaurant |

Food and Leisure

Philippines’ ‘first Vegan chef’ at helm of The Farm’s new Upperdeck restaurant

Deni Rose M. Afinidad-Bernardo -
Philippinesâ âfirst Vegan chefâ at helm of The Farmâs new Upperdeck restaurant
From left: The Farm at San Benito Kitchen Head and Executive Chef Rosemarie “Chef Marie” Pagcaliwagan; Upperdeck restaurant ambience and specialties that include Italian Flaked Salmon with Herb Crust; Gambas Al Ajillo; and Homemade Cookie Ice Cream Sandwich
The Farm at San Benito / Released; / Deni Rose M. Afinidad-Bernardo

MANILA, Philippines — A sip of Upperdeck restaurant’s Spiced Beet Dip with Goat Cheese and Hazelnuts would make one think it was a Hindu chef who was behind it – and the same is true for the Indian dishes of Upperdeck’s sister restaurants – the Vegan Alive!, the Ayurvedic Prana, and the Pescatarian, Pesce.

Even the Indian and Nepalese co-owners of the restaurants in the eco-luxury, holistic medical resort The Farm at San Benito in Lipa City, Batangas, are impressed that a Filipina, Rosemarie “Chef Marie” Pagcaliwagan, is at the helm of the Indian and international cuisines of the recently Halal-certified Alive!, Pesce, Prana, and the estate’s newly opened dining joint, Upperdeck.

It is hard to believe that Pagcaliwagan did not specialize in Indian cuisine and just learned the specialty on her own, she told in an exclusive interview last week.

After taking her culinary studies from Lyceum of Batangas, Pagcaliwagan trained extensively under renowned foreign Vegan chefs, Chad Sarno (founder of Wicked Healthy) and Felix Shoener (Raw vegan chef of Fivelements).

“When I joined The Farm 22 years ago, I’m the first Vegan chef in the Philippines. It’s so hard, actually, to make a menu that is purely Vegan, especially with pastries – you cannot make one with egg, milk,” she recalled.

“Even the Indian (cuisine), which I really didn’t know that time, I have no idea about Indian dishes. What they did, our GM (general manager) is Indian, actually, and then the owners are Nepalese, Indian, Filipino, so we came up with Indian food because most of the guests are Indian. So what the GM did, he sent me to many Indian restaurants in Manila to try some food and then it’s like magic. When I taste (the food), I already get it (how to prepare the food).”

Her knack for learning with her tongue (admittedly, with help from some cooking videos) earned Pagcaliwagan and The Farm many international awards and a Halal certification for their first restaurant in the property, Alive!.

She described Alive! as “mostly plant-based” and “no dairy,” even sweeteners come from the property’s own coconuts. “Even honey is not allowed because honey is from the bee, which is an animal,” she said.

“The difference between Vegan and vegetarian is that Vegan is purely plant-based, no dairy, but for the vegetarian, it’s okay to use dairy.”

After Alive!, Pagcaliwagan helped establish Pesce, a seafood restaurant boasting of Asian flavors mixed with Mediterranean, inspired by the Mediterranean Blue Zone Diet. Its menu, she said, is mainly composed of whole grains and fish as protein to balance the meals “for longevity of life.”

Just beside Alive! and across Pesce came Prana, an Indian and vegetarian Ayurveda restaurant, which the chef said is aiming to provide good energy through its energy-packed Indian-vegetarian dishes rich in spices like beet, coriander and turmeric.

In response to guests’ requests for more protein sources, Upperdeck restaurant was opened last week to offer purely Mediterranean food, using organic chicken, said the chef.

“We have a supplier for the pasteurized chicken, it’s really organic. And for the seafood, we also have deliveries every other day,” she said. “I just started with Mediterranean for now, but we’re really planning to expand it to international (cuisine).”

“If you’re more of a meat eater, come here in the new (Upperdeck) restaurant because we have organic chicken. If your diet is more on fish, you can go to Pesce. Or you can combine, it depends on the guests’ diet,” explained the chef, who takes three to four months to prepare a new menu for each of the four restaurants.

She also injects Filipino touches into the dining areas’ Vegan menu, particularly, her native Batangas dishes like Laing and Lomi, to also help create “a Filipino brand of wellness” through their menu.

As for her own diet, she revealed: “I eat everything but meat, only once in a while – when I’m (eating) out, or if there’s an event. But when I’m here (The Farm), typically, what I’m serving, (that’s what I eat).”

Over the years, Chef Marie has worked hand-in-hand with The Farm’s integrative medical doctors in providing detoxifying, cleansing, and nourishing cuisine to guests dealing with various lifestyle diseases and health issues.

“If the guests have restrictions, we (The Farm’s experts) work together to come up with a meal plan accordingly,” the chef said.

After 22 years of being with The Farm, Chef Marie is now the estate’s Kitchen Head or Executive Chef and co-author of the property’s cookbooks, with an unrivaled knowledge of the property’s endemic agriculture and 27-hectare vegetable garden; a mastery over raw Vegan cuisine; and a passion for healing through food.

“What I learned from Vegan (food), is that you can see the difference – from the first time you were eating purely meat to shifting to more vegetables and healthy food, you can see the difference. If your diet is more on carbs, meat and oily food, after eating, you’d feel tired and sleepy. But if you’re eating more vegetables, fresh, organic, you can work like me – morning until evening,” she said on how her work has changed not only her diet, but also her life.

“They need to work hard every day and it should be a passion,” she advised those aspiring to also succeed in the culinary world. 

“If you put passion into what you’re doing, and love the food that you make, you will see the benefits of it with the people who will eat that. Because if you don’t feel the food, other people can also taste that. But even with simple food, if you put love in making it, the people who would eat that would feel wow. They can feel the freshness of the vegetables, the taste of the vegetables, and the benefits of it.”

RELATED: Eating while working? Why it’s bad for your health – The Farm at San Benito doctor 

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