Alain Ducasse’s newest head chef is a Filipina

Meet Chef Safa Nessmarie Rodas.

Much like in the movie Kusina, it is hard to imagine a Filipino kitchen without a woman in control. It is one of the places where a woman’s skills play naturally. While many women would now rebel against the idea of being tied to the stove and hidden from the world, we cannot deny that the kitchen became a special place because of the delicious meals and important lessons given to us by the best women in our lives.

This is the story Filipina chef Safa Nessmarie Rodas is keeping in her heart as she takes on her new role as head chef at the Voyages by Alain Ducasse, a Michelin plate-awarded restaurant located at Morpheus Hotel in Macau’s City of Dreams.

Chef Safa Nessmarie Rodas

Prior to her life in Macau, Chef Safa has worked across the world starting with an internship at French bistro Benoit New York by Alain Ducasse in New York City. For six years, this Enderun alumna cooked her way from being an intern to becoming the executive sous chef there before landing her new post in Macau.

Taking Filipino culinary talent to a global stage, Chef Safa chats with Manila Bulletin Lifestyle about her experience being inside international kitchens and the difference a woman can make in leadership and serving up dishes.

What inspired you to pursue a career in the culinary industry?

My family has a small restaurant business in Southern Leyte. I grew up with a family that enjoys food. My mother has a very keen sense of taste—she knows the amount of salt she prefers and always finds good ingredients to bring out the flavor. She can be very picky with food at times, and this attribute that I got from her would be the stimulus to why I decided to pursue this path.

What's the best lesson you have learned from your instructors at Enderun Colleges?

Our instructors since the beginning have woken us up to the reality that there is no easy way to success. One must learn things with conscious effort and drive. Along with it are discipline and the unwavering passion to learn and get better. They have constantly pushed us. It tends to get difficult, especially with this field that requires a lot of practice and skills. We did not learn things overnight, we learned things by doing them repetitively, making sure we do it better and faster every single time.

Before you came to Macau, you first worked in New York. How is the experience different in each city?

It’s a different kind of vibe with the casino hotels around and a very different kind of clientele as well. I had to adjust my perception on how to make sure the client understands the kind of cuisine and food we serve. Some of the things we offer in New York will completely not be understood by the market here in Macau, and it’s the same the other way around. When I was in New York, I had to learn basic Spanish working with a lot of Latinos, while here in Macau, I have to at least know how to count in Cantonese. Both were challenging environments to work in, but I thoroughly enjoy continuously learning.

Do you think the restaurant kitchen business is dominated by men? What makes it unique when a woman is leading the service?

Yes. Up until now it is still highly male-dominated and male-managed, although there has been a rising number of empowered women who are getting really known for their work ethics in this industry like Dominique Crenn, Clare Smyth, Ann Sophie Pic, to name a few. My chef before in New York is also a woman (Chef Laetitia Rouabah) and I learned many things from her in terms of handling situations and making sure not to get intimidated, and to always have confidence in yourself and believe in what you can achieve.

I think what makes it unique is how women are always seen to be a nurturing figure and that we always extend empathy to those who we lead. We like to inspire and influence our subordinates in a positive way. Sometimes we think that there is much greater pressure in being a woman in the industry, but this is a motivating factor for us to constantly work hard. I hope one day this stigma will change, but until then, I want to be one of those who can continue to inspire other women to support and uplift each other through the achievements we share.

What is the hardest part of your job?

It would be the constant stress and pressure of the kitchen, to be able to juggle a lot of things at a limited amount of time. Some people may think cooking is all that a chef does, but there’s a whole lot of things that come behind it. We plan, we source for suppliers, we take care of logistics, we make sure the kitchen and the team are always organized, we manage different kinds of people, we make sure the guests are happy, we research about the market trends, the list goes on, all while working long hours in the restaurant. There’s a lot of physical, emotional, and mental involvement in the job, but this is the exact same thing that makes it fulfilling at the end of each day, to be able to give yourself a pat on the back for a job well done, no matter how difficult the tasks are.

How would you advise anyone who wants to make it in the culinary industry?

You must be ready. When I say ready, I mean holistically prepared for the challenges. It is never an easy feat to make it in the culinary industry, and it takes a lot of courage, patience, and determination. But I promise you, once you know in yourself that you have worked hard, the fruit of your labor will come a hundredfold. There aren’t a lot of people who are in it for the long haul, but if you keep your eyes on the goal, you will be able to make it.