By Jon Lister | August 11, 2023
In the safe, clean streets of Singapore, where restaurants come and go and chefs are often from culinary schools funded by wealthy families, Mauricio‘s story more than stands out. It’s a tale of ambition, passion, and the transformative power of food. But before he became a chef, Mauricio was a young boy with a dream; a dream that would take him on a perilous journey to near death, from a small town in Mexico to the heart of the Big Apple, and eventually, to the Little Red Dot.
“I used to hate cooking,” Mauricio begins, a surprising confession for someone who now wields a chef’s knife with such passion. Born in a town three hours southeast of Mexico City, Mauricio’s early years were marked by a sense of not belonging. As a teenager, he felt stifled by his family’s intensity and the limited horizons of his hometown. “I wanted to see the world,” he recalls. “I wanted to see what was beyond my small town.”
His family had plans for him. His father had chosen a good school, and his mother was excited about his future. But Mauricio had other ideas. He reminisces about his childhood, watching the cooking show “Cherpina” and being fascinated by the culinary world. But societal stigmas and peer pressure silenced his passion. “Becoming a chef was stigmatised,” he says. “I never told my parents I was into cooking.”
The turning point came when a friend mentioned he was heading to the U.S. to work. Mauricio, fueled by youthful impulsiveness, decided to join him. With just a backpack and a few changes of clothes, the two embarked on a journey neither would ever forget.
Their first challenge came in Tijuana, where they were kidnapped and held for hours without food or money. “Was I scared? No. I was mad at myself,” Mauricio admits. “If they kill us, that will be stupid. I shouldn’t have gone in the first place.” But fate had other plans. They were released, and their journey continued.
The next leg of their trip was even more harrowing. Mauricio paints a vivid picture of a warehouse filled with hopeful immigrants from all over the world. The atmosphere was thick with fear and uncertainty. “You could see sadness. You could see fear,” he recalls. But Mauricio was too young to fully grasp the gravity of the situation.
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The final push to cross the border was fraught with danger. Mauricio recounts the heart-wrenching sight of a woman clutching her baby, crying in the desert. He approached to offer help, only to be pulled away and sternly warned. “Here, you don’t help. It’s your life, or their life,” he was told.
But Mauricio made it. He crossed the border and found himself in California. From there, a series of fortunate events led him to New York City. He began working as a dishwasher, cleaning tables in restaurants. The city was a far cry from his hometown, and Mauricio had to adapt quickly. He learned English, made connections, and eventually found his way to the kitchen.
It was in NYC that Mauricio’s passion for cooking was reignited. He met the right people at the right time, including the team from “Employees Only,” who played a pivotal role in his culinary journey. “The motivation was there,” he says with a smile.
It was through his contacts that he was given the opportunity to open a restaurant on the other side of the world, in a country he had only ever heard of on TV. Singapore welcomed him with open arms, and before he knew it, his restaurant “Papi’s Tacos” had become one of the most popular Mexican restaurants in the city.
Today, Mauricio’s story is a testament to the power of perseverance and the magic of following one’s passion. After opening his second outlet of Papi’s Tacos on Tanjong Pagar, he is about to launch his third – on Joo Chiat. From a small town in Mexico to the bustling kitchens of New York City and Singapore, Mauricio’s journey is a reminder that dreams, no matter how distant, will always have the ability to come true. You just have to want it enough.
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