Women On Top: Margarita Forés and Victoria Belo On The Pursuit of Success and Happiness

The Doctor is In

In 30 years of business, Dr. Vicki Belo has been at the forefront of aesthetic dermatology. From dreaming as a young girl to a seasoned professional, she has weathered professional and personal storms, coming out as a woman with things to say, and still, always learning.

For some people, the knowledge of what they want to be when they grow up is learned over time: after all, we only truly know our capabilities and ourselves as we start experiencing more of the world. For others, however, that calling is instantaneous. One moment you are an innocent child, the very next; you suddenly realize what you want out of the world. Some kids want to be astronauts, while some want their names in flashing lights.

For Victoria Belo, it was to be a dermatologist. The dream began at the age of five years old, brought on by formative experiences that would only serve to toughen her up. “I was bullied because I was fat and ugly, and I was adopted. So I would hear my classmates say that I was given away because of that,” she says, “because what do young pre-schoolers know about life? But yes, that’s where it all started for me.” Rather than letting these circumstances taint her view of the world, Vicki let it encourage her. “I didn’t exactly know I wanted to be a dermatologist, but I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to make everyone beautiful so they would be loved.”

In the Philippines, and especially in the era Vicki grew up in, parents dictated the careers of their children. For Vicki, this could not be more than the opposite. Raised by supportive parents, Vicki remembers her father, Atty. Ike Belo putting her on his shoulders and telling her she could fly. “He gave me wings so I believed I could fly. So no, I never believed my gender or anything else for that matter was a limitation to my dreams. I was told to believe I could do anything I put my head into,” she says, adding that for her and her parents, being adopted never mattered. “I think being adopted and carrying the Belo name has been sort of a true blessing. Since Belo in Portuguese means beauty and I ended up in the beauty industry.”

Vicki knew back then that she wanted to make a mark in aesthetic dermatology, no easy feat back then because it was a relatively new field. Initially, it was a tough sell. She mentions they had naysayers, people who didn’t like her way of selling the product, and the procedure. In those days, the field was smaller, more exclusive, and more adverse to public relations; a different landscape to what it is today. “I believe kasi in educating people about the benefits of the lasers and new procedures. Because how else will people know about it if we don’t spread the word?” she asks. “So I did interviews and spread the word about the benefits. 30 years after everyone else is doing it. In that regard, I am proud to have paved the way.”

Today, the Belo Medical Group happens to be one of the most highly regarded in its field in dermatology. According to Vicki, what attracted her to the field was seeing firsthand how it could change lives. “You know what they say: a millimeter scar in the face can sometimes be a kilometer scar in heart,” she says. A good dermatologist should be imbued with an eye for beauty and symmetry, and to know when enough is enough. A responsible one understands that there is a delicate balance. “We should know what would be the best treatment to address their concerns and we abide by our oath not to harm,” she says. Despite the many innovations available, Vicki cautions that patients must be careful in choosing who they take their visit for procedures. “Kaya nga I am kind of sad that so many non-doctors are opening clinics now. I am just afraid that it has become a business and that the welfare of the patient is compromised,” she says. “At Belo we don’t sell the machine: we give value to the doctors who trained countless hours to know how to best use the machines.”

The Myth of Having It All

For Belo Medical Group to become a success story, Vicki had to make sacrifices. She initially thought that she could make it work by focusing on her growing family and then working at the clinic “mga thrice a week.” But from the onset, the clinic was a success: within the first two weeks, they already had a steady roster of clients. She also had to travel when she was studying abroad. It meant being away a lot from her two oldest children, Quark and Cristalle. “The whole time, I kept coming back home for like a week and then traveling again, so the biggest sacrifice was traveling to leave my children,” she says. While her first marriage to Atom Henares didn’t work out, she is now happily married again to Hayden Kho, and a mother once more to their daughter, Scarlet. “It is all good now, we are all in a good place, by the grace of God,” she says.

When asked what advice Vicki would give to her younger self, she says to prioritize God, instead of trying to find satisfaction elsewhere. Also, not to shop too much. “Always save for a rainy day,” she says. “We now know what really matters. Our family and the simple things that make us happy. It is not the fancy things we used to long for, all the designer bags we can no longer use because we have nowhere else to go.”

Flavors That Raise A Nation’s Colors

Restaurateur and Asia’s Best Female Chef in 2016 Margarita Forés has seen the world and experienced global flavors only to find that the most meaningful dishes are those that bring the best of her country to the world.

New York City in the 70s and 80s was a melting pot of young, vibrant cultures coming together. It was during this time that Margarita ‘Gaita’ Fores, Asia’s Best Female Chef in 2016 and flag bearer of the Philippine culinary scene, first moved there to fall in love with food. She begins, “I was there because my family was on self-exile. At that time, it was a city you would visit to see what the rest of the world is doing in food. It was a good time to be there. I was in my late teens—an impressionable age. That’s where my culinary journey began.”

Moonlighting in the kitchen

For a while, Gaita was a fashion girl by day, cook by night. When off from her style duties, she tinkered around the kitchen and frequented groceries and fresh markets, preparing for her next nocturnal food adventure. “At first I was just cooking for myself. Soon I was also preparing food for friends,” she shares.

The unexpected death of her grandfather brought her and the entire family back to the Philippines. By that time, Gaita has turned her cooking from a past time into a passion. “So shortly after that, I asked my mom if I could go to Italy to take a course and to see what I wanted to do,” says Gaita.

Seven Years of Dinners and a Baptism of Fire

It took seven years before Gaita opened her first restaurant. She began doing small private dinners for only one associate to help her out. Apart from the passion for cooking, her Italian immersion, there were no systems or organizational skills set in place to help her navigate the business. “I am not a business person,” confesses Gaita.

By 1990, Gaita decided to step back and reassess her career choices. “Was this a career or a hobby?” she asked herself. Despite doubts and setbacks, her inner voice always told her that she was doing her life’s purpose. “I went back. Got my act together and worked to get my catering business off the ground,” reveals Gaita. Small dinner grew into beautiful receptions of 300 guests and more. From creating private tablescapes and menus, Gaita soon found herself preparing for state dinners. “It was at around that point that I felt I was ready to open my own restaurant.”

Still a Student

Being recognized as Asia’s Best Female Chef, a successful chain of restaurants and an illustrious reputation as one of the best caterers in the country is the only reason to keep learning and growing. “Never think you know it all. The minute you are complacent is the start of your downfall. In this industry, you have to be constantly learning” she says. There is palpable excitement in her voice as she talks about the new crop of culinary masters in the country. “I love the work of Jordy Navarro and Josh Boutwood. It is also exciting to witness how Chele continues to push the envelope.” Such commentary is a testament to her commitment to supporting and helping to harness aspiring chefs and culinary creators.

Dinner, Dead or Alive

Experience, lessons, and the passing of time have only reinforced a deep connection between Gait and her roots. “My heritage means a lot to me. I always look to my home province for inspiration,” she declares. Even in putting together her own words from the wise, she advises, “Wherever you end up, never forget how you started. Remember where you came from and who help you when you had absolutely nothing to offer.” She maintains the same spirit of gratitude when asked about her dream dinner and the food she would create for that special meal. “Whoever I’ve become has to do with what my parents have taught me. So dinner with both maternal and grandparent would be the ultimate dinner, to thank them and show them what I’ve made of myself.”

Read the full the stories written by Sara Siguion-Reyna and Bianca Salonga in Lifestyle Asia’s October 2020 Edition titled, “The Future is Female.”

Art direction MARC PAGDILAO
Assistant Photographer VON LUNA
Styling GEE JOCSON assisted by STEPH APARICI for Margarita Fores, BANG PINEDA for Vicki Belo
Makeup MICHELLE GALLITO for Vicki Belo
Shot on location GRAND HYATT MANILA

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