The celebrated chef, restaurateur, and author is still doing menus after over 50 years in the Philippine food industry.
“There are many ways of presenting tinola,” says Glenda Barretto, musing about finding beauty in the presentation of food. As the founder of one of the Philippines’ most beloved dining institutions, Via Mare, Barretto herself is a much admired pillar of Filipino cuisine.
When the restaurant opened in 1975, Barretto had already worked in Sulô restaurant, where she was in charge of catering and improving its food presentation. “I was known for that,” she says. “I had a soup like a bouillabaisse in Via Mare, but it was presented differently. It tasted similar, but it was served with a crust. That was the first time a soup was served like that. It was original. And people loved it. They would come, and they would order that right away when they would sit down. I had another dish, crab and mango salad. I presented it nicely, and it was a success.”
It was the height of Philippine tourism, and foreigners would enter the restaurant, slips of paper in hand to show the staff what their friends had written down. “Our bisque Méditerranée was recommended numerous times by those who had dined in our restaurant. They would bring the note to the kitchen. This was one of my proudest moments,” she recalls. By word of mouth, Filipino food was placed on the map. State dinners in Malacañang, expositions abroad, and hundreds of other catering events flooded Barretto’s schedule. She never took a breather and was always ready to prepare last-minute meals. “We were always on the go,” she says.
With over 50 years of experience, Barretto has remained on top of the food chain, so to speak. Her abilities inside the kitchen have inspired thousands. “The things I introduced have been copied. There are some changes in the recipes, sometimes very few, but it’s OK that the dishes were reproduced. It’s for the country,” she says matter-of-factly. “I’m so proud that some Filipinos have Michelin stars, like Tim Flores and Genie Kwon. There are so many other people I met while catering for Madrid Fusion, for example, who are exemplary in what they do. I always enjoy what they are doing.”
Nowadays, Glenda only goes into the office to observe, keep abreast of general events, and make suggestions. “I’m old and I’m slower,” she states, though she adds she still loves her job. “I still do menus. I still get excited when I talk to my people.” She recalls the nights she would stay up, thinking about improving her next menu. “It was always about what I could serve next,” she says.
Barretto has led generations who continue to pass down her recipes; she is happy that people followed in her footsteps and developed what she began. “In a small way, I have contributed to our nation,” she says. “Filipino food has improved.”
Meet The Ladies Who Launch
In thoroughly exploring their passions, honing their skills, and continuing to be beacons who inspire a whole nation, these five women show a life well-crafted and well-lived.
According to the World Economic Forum Report Global Gender Gap Report from June 2023, the Philippines, New Zealand, and Australia have the highest gender parity among East Asian and Pacific countries. If young Filipinas today have an edge, no doubt that this was carved out by the many trailblazing women who came before. Heroines in their own right, these revolutionaries are educators, scholars, writers, and artists.
Here, we pay tribute to five pioneering women who have paved the way and showed us how to live a meaningful life. They are our national treasures. Literally, too, as Alice Reyes is a National Artist for Dance and Dolores Ramirez is a National Scientist.
These women traversed challenging waters and anchored themselves on the world stage. They achieved tremendous milestones over 250 years combined, in the fields of Culture, the Arts, and the Sciences, helping shape Philippine society and influencing future leaders for generations to come.
By Ria De Borja. Photographs by Artu Nepomuceno. Beauty Editor: Joyce Oreña. Fashion Director: Pam Quiñones. Makeup: Gery Peñaso of M.A.C Cosmetics, Ting Duque. Hair: JA Feliciano, Mong Amado. Art Director: Jann Pascua. Production Design: Justine Arcega-Bumanlag. Producer: Bianca Zaragoza, Anz Hizon. Multimedia Artists: Gabbi Constantino, Tinkerbell Poblete. Production Assistant: Zofia Agama. Photographer’s Assistants: Choi Narciso, Jordon Estrada. Stylist’s Assistant: Ticia Almazan. Production Design Assistants: Gabrielle Mantala, Geber Cunanan, Jan Abal, Olderico Bondoc. Makeup Assistants: Charisma Contaoi, Leilani Samson, Lorrine Villamayor. Interns: Jean-Jacques Girod- Roux, Sophia Lanawan.