Who Is The Father Of The Farm-To-Table Movement In The Philippines?

by Isabel Martel Francisco from Tatler Phlippines

Meet Tatler Asia Tastemaker Ernest Escaler – the founder of Gourmet Farms, Coffee and Cafe!

“In the late 70s, we were the largest coffee exporter and trader in the Philippines,” shares Ernest Escaler, founder of Gourmet Farms. He recalls trying to convince local consumers to shift from the then norm (instant coffee) to freshly brewed through his roasted beans under Gourmet Coffee. “Aside from us, the only roast and ground products were imported products at the time,” he says.

“Around 1986, when California cuisine was the rage in America, I decided to put up the country’s first organic farm in Silang, Cavite. We converted a two hectare orchid farm into a sustainable organic vegetable farm.” Not long after, he opened Gourmet’s Café, which soon drew visitors by hordes, mostly coming from Metro Manila. 

Not only did he introduce the country to beautiful coffee, but he truly is the father of our farm-to-table movement. Escaler is a pioneer in the Philippine sustainable food movement, and is now highly regarded, respected and looked up to by many. We are so thankful that he stuck to his guns through the years – in fact, they celebrated their 40th year in the business. His determination and passion has positively impacted the F&B community and continues to inspire and educate others. 

As in any situation, necessity is the mother of invention.

– Ernest Escaler

What would you say your big break was?  

I believe the big break came in 1989 when we opened Gourmet’s Café. At that time, we had a bountiful harvest yet there were no buyers for the produce. The Philippines was not used to eating salads or using fresh culinary herbs. It was then when we decided to put up a restaurant [that] featured a salad bar and a menu that used fresh herbs. In 1990, Gourmet’s Café became the go-to place outside Metro Manila. The main attraction became our salad bar, pesto pasta and puttanesca and of course, freshly brewed coffee to end the meal. 

What motivates you to do what you do? 

I enjoy seeing our workers happy with what they are doing. I enjoy it when people become loyal to our products. In the end, I like making people happy and being a positive part of their lives.

What do you feel is your contribution to the philippine dining scene? 

Without a doubt, the proliferation of coffee establishments serving brewed coffee, plus the prevalence of salad in one’s diet. I believe we were the first to practice the farm to table concept in the Philippines. 

What have you been up to recently? 

We continue to promote organic farming and have recently bought another farm to develop. We believe healthy food is one of the main sources of our national food security. 

How has the pandemic affected your business and how have you evolved? 

As in any situation, necessity is the mother of invention. With the pandemic, we tried to focus on producing products that would naturally boost immunity to fight the current virus. We’ve developed a number of products aimed at doing this from natural herbal teas to ginger extracts and other stuff. Because of the lockdown, we also developed pre-cooked meals and now our online sales systems can bring you the freshest items.

Where do you see the future of the Philippine food scene? 

I believe that as the world slowly gets to accept Filipino food, people will try to re-engineer our cuisine for more universal appeal. 

Advice for a young chef, restaurant owner and someone who wants to be in your industry?  

Know your market and be passionate [about] your work. 

What would you attribute to the success of your brand? 

We have recently marked our 40th year in the business. We have not done advertising and rarely do promotions, so I believe that our success is because we have good products and a passionate team which produces them. Of course, we also thank the Almighty for steering us through our life. 

Know your market and be passionate [about] your work.

— Ernest Escaler