“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”.
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”.