Marco Lobregat is a man on a mission. As the CEO of the Ministry of Mushrooms, his passion for mushrooms goes beyond just making a profit. He sees mushrooms as a valuable, yet untapped, source of nutrition and jobs for Filipinos.
In this exclusive interview, he talks about the Ministry of Mushrooms and its quest to improve the mushroom industry in the Philippines.
Adeline Yuboco: Hi Marco, thank you for taking some time out to do this interview. Can you tell what the Ministry of Mushrooms is all about?
Marco Lobregat: The goal of the Ministry of Mushrooms is to build a world-class, self-sustaining mushroom industry in the Philippines. The main difficulty facing the mushroom industry in the Philippines is consistency. There are a lot of mushroom growers, but they are quite small, and there is still a lot of room for them to grow, whether it’s in infrastructure, technology, R&D, collaboration, and alliances. But with our help through marketing, awareness and being closer to the clients, we’re able to help local growers service more restaurants and other establishments in the country.
Beyond that, our business is built on giving back and bringing some good to the Philippines. So apart from what we do, which is to grow and sell mushrooms, we look at different ways how we can give back to society. One way we found that we can help is by raising the awareness of the health benefits of including mushrooms in one’s diet.
AY: What prompted you and your business to go towards this direction?
MG: We’re very far from other countries like the US. Even if they are very much into processed foods, there’s a large movement towards whole foods, organic foods, going natural and knowing where your food comes from. This awareness and consciousness of what you put into your body, what you do to your body, and how you feel are important in trying to prevent certain illnesses, which, I believe, to be a matter of lifestyle and a matter of awareness towards health.
AY: Aside from oyster mushrooms, are there other varieties of mushrooms that you can find in the Philippines?
MG: There are other varieties. Tenga ng daga (Cloud ear fungus) is one. Straw mushrooms is another, which we are introducing soon. Then there is what they call the milky mushroom, which is like this huge white button mushroom. Many people have not seen or heard about it. We’re still in the R&D phase with it, and working with other growers as well to see how we can grow these and develop a market in the Philippines for it. In the meantime, we want to establish the oyster mushrooms and really drive this through the Philippine market.
AY: Tell me more about the Mushrooms Go Pink campaign you started.
MG: I saw other Mushrooms Go Pink campaigns in other countries like in Canada and Australia, and these inspired me to do something like that in the Philippines to show support for a good cause.
This Eggplant and Oyster Mushroom Tagine dish from Kasbah's Moroccan Cuisine is one of the delicious mushroom dishes specially prepared for the Mushrooms Go Pink campaign.
When I started this, I wanted it to be a collaborative effort. So, I pulled together 30 different restaurants to create a special mushroom dish with local oyster mushrooms. The Ministry of Mushrooms and other local suppliers would supply these oyster mushrooms. 10% of what diners will pay for this special mushroom dish will be donated to the I Can Serve Breast Cancer Foundation. So aside from supporting breast cancer, the fact that over 30 very different restaurants were able to come up with unique dishes using just oyster mushrooms for this campaign shows just how versatile mushrooms can be.
AY: Why breast cancer in particular?
MG: Aside from October being Breast Cancer Awareness Month, mushrooms have been the focus of on-going scientific research. Mushrooms have already been proven to contain properties that help modulate the immune system. They can up a weakened immune system or regulate a hyper one. They also have what they call beta glucans, which have anti-tumor properties.
Each variety of mushrooms have their own specific type of beta glucans. For example, oyster mushrooms are rich in a compound called pleuran, which helps fight off cancer as well as lower blood cholesterol, relieve lower back pains, cramps, and limb paralysis, and boost the immune system.
They also said that eating a percentage of mushrooms daily would cut the risk of breast cancer by up to two-thirds. This is so important, especially in the Philippines because there is a very low sense of awareness and consciousness about cancer in the country. Breast cancer, in itself, is the number one killer of women around the world. In the past few years, the highest occurrence of breast cancer have been happening in Southeast Asia, and the Philippines is one of the highest.
AY: There seems to be just as many different kinds of mushrooms that can be locally grown here in the Philippines. Do you have a particular favorite?
MG: Shitake is one of my favorites because it’s got a really good taste. But all mushrooms just taste fantastic!
AY: How about a favorite way to cook mushrooms?
MG: Oh my! It’s hard to ask me what’s my favorite because there’s always something new to try, and almost any dish can have mushrooms. One way I like to do is to roast it with chicken. When you roast the chicken, take it out about 10-15 minutes before it’s done, add the mushrooms around the chicken and then stick it back in the oven. The mushrooms will absorb all the juices of the chicken, and will also crisp the ends. Delicious!
To find out more about the efforts of Marc Lobregat and the Ministry of Mushrooms, visit http://www.ministryofmushrooms.com/.
For more inforamtion about the Mushrooms Go Pink campaign in the Philippines, visit http://www.mushroomsgopinkph.com/.