For many Filipinos, the quest for a better life for their families comes with a hefty price: toiling miles away from their loved ones and facing the challenges that come with it.
For Marvin Braceros, finding himself in a new country 17 years ago brought tears and frustrations. Earning money abroad was not what it first seemed.
Those left back home in Batangas thought he was having the time of his life, that he was lucky to experience what they might never experience in the Philippines.
But they were mistaken.
In 2004, Braceros made a life-changing decision against the will of his family.
A graduate of Air Transportation, Braceros worked as a ground steward for an airline company for three years before his path took a different turn when he flew to Milan to work as a domestic helper without any legal documents. He only had a luggage full of dreams that someday he would make it big in Europe.
With no proper papers, Braceros tried different jobs: a household worker, dishwasher and even as a glass cleaner. Italy had been very lenient with migrant workers like him but he had to wait for seven years before he got his permit to stay.
While earning double his wage back in the Philippines, Braceros didn’t just settle with the cleaning jobs. He felt that he shouldn’t just depend on his monthly salary. He had bigger dreams, a greater desire to improve his life.
He invested in higher learning and enrolled in a culinary course at the Italian Culinary Institute. It was pure luck when he got in without presenting his documents. But with determination and talent, he finished the course.
After attending the culinary school, offers came in. The one he could not resist was a chef posting at the Dolce and Gabbana Martini Bar and Restaurant, a place for exclusive cocktails and fine dining.
It was the realization of his dreams.
“I was able to change the way I felt about myself. I felt so small. Sometimes it is not about life battles but how you face the pangs of self-denial and self-satisfaction. When you fall into a pit full of false expectations and can’t pull yourself back up out of the hole”, said Braceros.
He eventually saw merit in taking his talent to a business venture.
Slow and steady, he went to the test the waters. He started a catering business for special events within the Filipino community.
As he gained more skills and tricks of the trade, he also saw an opportunity for growth. The catering business turned into the first Filipino gourmet restaurant in Milan.
The birth of YUM Taste of the Philippines also put Filipino food in the forefront, making it known to Italians.
“It’s always a question for me on why we aren’t successful in advocating and presenting our food to the world gastronomy scene. It should be promoted because our dishes like our neighboring countries deserve it. I made it a goal to put our restaurant as a destination to embark on a journey to paradise that is our country, the Philippines,” shared Braceros.
His loyalty to Filipino cuisine blended with Italian techniques in cooking and food styling, which resulted in a higher demand for Filipino dishes like pansit, lumpia, kaldereta and adobo among the Milanese people.
Braceros’ dishes created a buzz in the city. He offered a specialized menu that would ease the Filipinos’ longing for native dishes and at the same time put Italians’ mind at ease on how Filipino food is prepared and what it’s made of.
The result: it set everybody’s taste buds soaring.
From vegetable entrees, rice bowls, pork, beef, fish and goat dishes to noodle soups, skewers and desserts—it’s a culinary discovery for Italians who are very prescriptive when it comes to food.
This year, YUM was included as one of the best restaurants in Milan and in Italy by Gambero Rosso, a famous food and wine magazine in Italy.
“Filipino food is something planned from the heart, cooked with pride and served with hospitality. That’s how I embodied our cuisine,” shared Braceros.
Now, Braceros is back in the Philippines to expand the business and explore other opportunities for his food creations - proof that hard work pays off and one shall always find his way back home.
He opened YUM Milano in a food hall in Makati last November and is set to open another branch next year.
Life for Braceros is just like working in a kitchen, do what pleases you, experiment and have fun. He searched for the right ingredients and tools and finally found the recipe of his life after a lot trials and errors. He now has a cookbook of life experiences that will surely help other people stimulate their appetite for success.