How Gourmet Farms–turning 30 this year–taught Filipinos to love salads and wraps | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

Homemade wraps made from Gourmet Farms produce
Homemade wraps
Ernest Escaler of Gourmet Farms Inc.
Ernest Escaler at Sanctuario, the retreat place: Gourmet Farms espouses “Choose to Live Well.” PHOTOS BY NELSON MATAWARAN

Entrepreneur and gentleman-farmer Ernest Escaler is a man of many firsts. He’s a pioneer in the business processing outsourcing industry, as well as in commercial organic farming, bean-to-brewed coffee, herbal teas, farm-to-table meals and salad bars.

As his baby, Gourmet Farms Inc., turns 30 this month, it is blazing the trail yet again, this time in healthy convenience food. Aside from pre-packed salads, it has expanded its ready-to-eat (RTE) range, which now offers tuna in lettuce wraps, mango arugula wraps, ploughman’s sandwich, and bento boxes.

Gourmet Farm Express in Libis, Quezon City, the first stand-alone delicatessen with a salad bar and pre-packed meals, has proven to be profitable, as is the store Lafayette 3. There are plans to do franchising.

“We aim to provide alternative food to the market as people become more health-conscious. Yet we don’t sacrifice culinary taste,” says Escaler who, at 68, keeps cooking up ideas.

Orchid farm

Gourmet Farms started in 1987 as a two-hectare orchid farm in Silang, Cavite.

“I wanted to create a business that was free from government intervention and regulation,” recalls Escaler. Agriculture was the logical choice.

A frequent traveler, he was fascinated by California cuisine, a food trend that emphasized freshness of ingredients, variety in vegetables and lean meats and seafood. In the ’80s, farms were reverting to organic or traditional agriculture as a backlash against farming that relied on synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.

Escaler set up an organic farm of salad lettuces, even as Filipinos then had been favoring meat and rice and were unaccustomed to eating raw leaf salads. His early harvest was distributed among the neighboring religious orders.

“I guess we became successful because everybody was praying for us,” he says in jest. “Since nobody knew how to eat the salad, I decided to put up a restaurant to showcase our produce. It was cheaper than going all over the place to promote the salad.”

Surprisingly, young people became the repeat clients because of the novelty of the make-your-own-salad. This prompted their parents to take them to Gourmet Farms.

Sandwich made from Gourmet Farms produce
Grilled meats on organic vegetables and homemade buns

International certification

What started out as a nipa-hut dining outlet evolved into a log cabin and the present Mediterranean-inspired, full-service restaurant, The Dining Room.

What started out as a hobby, with Escaler’s kitchen preparing the food, has become a commissary headed by executive chef Enrico Molera.

Today, Gourmet Farms is an 11-hectare property that produces its own green leafy vegetables. It has an international certification from Société Générale de Surveillance, a global company that inspects the quality of goods produced.

Gourmet Farms’ wide range of herbal teas, ready-to-eats, coffees, dressings, sauces, lettuce and pesto chips and baked goods is available in Metro Manila supermarkets.

Escaler recalls that customers requested dressings so they could make the salads at home. Since the restaurant was a hub or a pit stop, vacationists also asked for dips, sandwiches, salads and wraps. Thus, Escaler saw the demand for healthy convenience foods.

Ashitaba salad made from Gourmet Farms produce
Ashitaba salad with parma ham, blue cheese and seasonal chico
Homemade wraps made from Gourmet Farms produce
Homemade wraps


The deli, Gourmet Farms Express, and its products are an alternative to the popular fast-food chains. Conventional fast foods contain high calories, bad fats, sugar, refined carbohydrates, additives and preservatives that may pose health risks.

Gourmet Farms’ proposition is that nutrition can sell and organic food need not be expensive.

Warren Madrid, manufacturing manager, handles the bakery and the central kitchen. The wraps and sandwiches are displayed with Gourmet Farms’ salads and dressings in major supermarkets.

Franchising director John Lim says, “We are redefining fast-food by making healthy eating affordable, appetizing and accessible.”

The first Gourmet Farms Express is a 30-sq m outlet; the 150-g salads range from P150 to P180, or half the price what other salad bars charge. Customers can choose the wrap or salad with four free toppings. They pay for premium ingredients such as salmon, shrimp or ashitaba leaves.

The RTE’s are complemented with homemade breads and pastries from the company bake shop, along with soups, vegetable chips and smoothies.

Escaler can keep prices down because the main ingredients are sourced from his own farm, unlike other salad bars that deal with outside suppliers.

Joel Layog, chef Vince Santos, executive chef Ico Molera, Eugine Jimenez, John Lim, Albert Mendoza, Len Reyes, Ginny de Villa, Escaler, Warren Madrid
Joel Layog, chef Vince Santos, executive chef Ico Molera, Eugine Jimenez, John Lim, Albert Mendoza, Len Reyes, Ginny de Villa, Escaler, Warren Madrid

Single-origin coffee

Roasted coffee, Escaler’s original product, has produced a line of single-origin coffees. He explains that local supply is not able to cope with the huge demand, hence companies have to import.

The Arabicas del Mundo, an exclusive line of the finest coffee bean, is cultivated in the world’s coffee belt. The country is represented by the Philippine Civet or alamid coffee, which produces a smooth flavor after processing.

“We buy the coffee cherries, which are evidence that they were digested by the civet cats in the mountains,“ says Escaler. In contrast, some companies promote civet coffee but are unable to vouch for the authenticity of the source.

Aside from retail expansion, Gourmet Farms’ private dining department is growing. Banks and multinationals have tapped the commissary to run their food services. The commissary prepares cafeteria menus for thousands of employees from breakfast to dinner.

On his greatest learning experience, Escaler says: “I’ve been more picky about the quality of food we eat. The other night, I had a nine-course kaiseki dinner at the Japanese Club In Singapore. It was an experience, but my type of food is to make it affordable. Our business is to get into everybody’s houses and provide beneficial properties to their daily habits.”

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