She is the first Filipina to ever hold the position of executive chef, not only in a prime ACCOR property, but in any five-star hotel in the country. The multi-awarded chef shares her monumental triumphs, her struggles, and why breaking glass ceilings are important to her.

“Petrified” is a word that one would not expect to be in Bettina Arguelles’ vocabulary. The multi-awarded chef was coming home from a highly-successful and decorated career in Singapore where her most recent stint as executive chef of Intercontinental Singapore Robertson Quay garnered her the recognition of Chef of the Year 2019 by the World Gourmet Awards. Prior to that, she honed her culinary skills in the Fullerton Hotel, Resortsworld Sentosa, Wayne Nish’s Privé, and Daniel Boulud’s db Bistro Moderne in Marina Bay Sands and New York. Chef Bettina, without a doubt, is seasoned and primed for success.

Yet, when asked how she felt about becoming the first Filipina executive chef of a major hotel group in her home country, she candidly replies, “Petrified! Terrified. It took me deep introspection and a period of discernment to accept the job. I didn’t want to commit career suicide by biting off more than I can chew and failing miserably in such an illustrious property, well-known and beloved to many Filipinos”.

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The illustrious property is the Sofitel Philippine Plaza Hotel, considered as one of the French brand’s principal holdings in the region. When then general manager Puneet Dhawan offered her the position, she had a rare moment of self-doubt. Bettina enumerates the qualities of the stereotypical ACCOR executive chef: “White male, with over 20 years of experience at least, traditional.” She, on the other hand, is “young (in cooking years), progressive, and definitely non-traditional. I’m Asian, female, unknown, obscure”.

Despite her doubts, chef Bettina has already proven her mettle in what continues to be a male-dominated industry. She admits to being discriminated against in every possible way. “I’ve encountered discrimination in all its shapes and forms. Not only with regards to gender but age, race, motherhood, nationality, accent— you name it”. Still, she coped by rolling with the punches and putting things in proper perspective. “All forms of discrimination come from the same source: ignorance. You overcome it by being intelligent and knowledgeable. You overcome it by embracing diversity. You must be prepared to deal with this in the real world; it’s a fact of life. Eventually, you develop a thicker skin. You need to have a sense of humour and lighten up a bit”.

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Like cream rising to the top, her success was never rushed or forced. Instead, Bettina shares her secret to earning her seat in the big boys table: “I don’t speak loud, I just make sense. That’s how you get yourself heard. Be polite, professional, and dignified”.

She is, after all, raising two young ladies at home. Being a mother is a top priority, and she takes her fortuitous duty as role model to them seriously and to the generations of women to come. When asked what advise she can give to young women wanting to follow in her footsteps, Bettina replies: “Now this one, I take to heart. Not only because I want to set an example for young female chefs, but most importantly, I’m a mother of two young ladies to whom I have a big responsibility.” She continues, “beyond building skill, it’s about building character. It’s about forging life skills. I think regardless of profession, the most valuable (lesson) I’ve learned so far is resilience in the face of adversity. Perseverance— to never give up. Live with passion and commitment. Learn how to choose your battles. If you want to be a wife, mother, sister, daughter, friend, professional all at the same time, it’s all possible! And don’t ever let anyone tell you what you can and can’t do. Only you can decide that for yourself.”

With her gentle, maternal style coupled with the steely determination forged by experience, Bettina is ready to bring Sofitel back to life once the dust settles on this pandemic. Where others would have second-guessed and faltered, she opted to step up to the plate and take on the gargantuan task of preparing the property’s outlets for the challenges of an uncertain future. This chef proves— to everyone and, more importantly, to herself— that she is truly fearless.

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