Describe your cuisine “I’m French-trained, use organic food and cook Philippine cuisine, which is increasing in popularity. It’s not as pure as Thai food. People are confused about what it is, but the Philippines was colonised by the Spanish and controlled by the Japanese, the Chinese … so it’s a mélange of ethnicities. These days, the younger generation doesn’t want home-cooked food – they want to go out, so we reinvent [home-cooked food] to make it more sophisticated and healthy.”

Where do you find inspiration? “I get it from everywhere I go. I’m like a seed – throw me anywhere and I start growing. Travel gives you a wider perspective in life. I keep discovering things and, like a sponge, I absorb and then go home and then squeeze it out and share what I’ve learned.”

How did you get into cooking? “I was the sixth of eight children, but I was the youngest child for eight years. So, for a time, my mom took me everywhere. We would wake up at 5am and go to the markets to buy fresh vegetables and fish. The first dish I made was stuffed fish. I asked my mom to teach me how to make it so she grabbed me a chair and I helped her. She would get upset because I liked stirring sauces and I constantly opened the oven door to check on the cakes. I was so curious and I like the smell of food. If I wasn’t a chef I don’t know what I would do! But I didn’t want to be a chef at first because my dad was a chef and I hardly saw him because he had to work lunches and dinners, holidays, weekends.”

What was Paris like after studying at the Culinary Institute of America, in New York? “I was in my late 20s and I had always dreamed of going to Paris to make it big. It’s like with fashion or art, if you love food, you want to go there. Paris refined my edges. My sense of smell and appreciation of food became deeper. When I was working in Paris my mom asked me to come home because she was ill, but I had just started working in a Michelin-starred restaurant and so I asked her to wait. But after a few months, she asked me again to come home, so I did and three days later, she died. I owe everything to my mom. When I was living in Paris I would spend my whole salary talking to her from the phone booth. I would tell her that people I worked with shouted at me, that they made me mop the floor, take the garbage out, they called me four letter words, but she kept encouraging me. I kept thinking, ‘If I get rich, if I get a better job, I will take her to the top of the Eiffel Tower.’ But now I think she’s even higher than the tower.”

So you’ve encountered racism? “There were times when I wondered why people made me feel so bad. Was I born to be discriminated against? But I think language was a barrier, too. In the Parisian restaurant, I would cook for the employees. I prepared Philippine food and they liked it and that’s how they got to know me and I gained respect. When I go back to Paris and Hong Kong now, I don’t feel discriminated against.”

Why do you promote organic food? “After my mom passed away, in 2000, my father was diagnosed with first stage lung cancer. I was determined not to make the same mistake, and moved to the United States to look after my dad. I fed him organic food and fresh fish. I either buy organic or local to help small farmers. Today, my dad is 85 and he jogs, travels, drives and drinks red wine. He has perfect vision but he has bad hearing.”

Tell us about your book, 20 Years of Love + Cooking “When I turned 50 last year, and returned to Manila after 15 years away, I wanted to thank all the people who had influenced and inspired me. I included [in my book] recipes I learned from my mother and from each of the places I had worked in – Paris, Singapore, Bangkok and Shanghai.”

What do you do when you’re not working? “I hate sleeping! Five hours is more than enough. I play tennis, swim and, on my days, off I like to drive out of Manila to quiet places, like beaches, to be in nature. As I get older, I’m more calm. I don’t shout as much – maybe I’m more human.”