Voyages by Alain Ducasse in Macau’s City of Dreams now has a Filipina head chef and she’s every bit determined to keep rising.
It is a common sentiment in many crafts, that the journey to excellence is endless and unyielding. No profession understands this plight more so than chefs on their culinary pilgrimage. It is a common instinct for those in this field to strive for continuous growth. It’s a cutthroat industry, physically and mentally, while being a chef is innately an artistic endeavor it’s also service driven. A balance of personal expression and pleasing patrons is a constant play for chefs, add to that the pursuit of professional progress—how one calibrates these factors will likely determine the trajectory of a chef’s career.
Sharing her culinary journey with us, we talk with Chef Safa Nessmarie Rodas, who recently took over as Head Chef at Voyages by Alain Ducasse. Reflecting on the principles she has followed throughout her work that led to the current role she holds with pride as a Filipina chef, she begins, “I studied Culinary Arts in Enderun Colleges, a college partnered with Ducasse Education. This is how my journey started. The four-year bachelor’s degree involved rigorous training, both theoretical and practical-based.” Sharing how early on she was exposed to the Ducasse restaurants, “On my third year, I did an internship at one of Ducasse’s restaurants in Paris, at the then Ducasse-owned and Michelin-starred Le Jules Verne at the Eiffel tower in Paris. I spent six months of training and this was my first real-life kitchen experience.”
This trend of working with Ducasse continued beyond as she details, “I came back to the Philippines to finish the rest of my degree. I graduated with the Culinary Excellence Award, which helped me land an opportunity to work at another Ducasse restaurant in New York City. I started on a one-year internship at Benoit New York as a Line Cook.” Her refinement of her skills in French cuisine at Benoit would then lead her to her current stint in Macau. “I was eventually offered employment, stayed in New York for almost six years and worked through the ranks to being Junior Sous Chef, Sous Chef then Executive Sous Chef, before I moved to Macao. The then Executive Chef of Voyages by Alain Ducasse, Anthony Bacle, offered me to be his Executive Sous Chef, an opportunity I thoroughly considered, as I felt I needed a change in environment and another challenge to continuously evolve in my career,” she shares on how her work in New York would land her an offer in Macau. Moving to Macau under the wind of Chef Bacle, a shift would lead to Safa taking the helm. “After a year in Macao, Chef Bacle is tasked by the group to open a new project in Japan. They then offered me to take over and be in-charge of the restaurant here in Macao. This sums up my journey thus far.”
On her experience working continuously in Ducasse restaurants, she says, “Alain Ducasse’s restaurants around the world have a set of principles, philosophies and values that we always need to uphold.” Saying that since she was exposed to their standards very early on in college it was a high threshold for quality she has become accustomed to. “Since I was in Enderun, we were always taught of the Ducasse way of thinking, cooking and working…This is how we are able to meet the standard and quality no matter which restaurant it is across the globe.” It is clear that she cemented an idea of quality since being under the tutelage of a single brand for so long. Commitment has certainly lent a hand in forming her skills today.
When asked on her experience as a female chef rising up the ranks in a predominantly male led industry, she quickly quips, “It is never about the gender. This is a stigma that should have long been gone but is still sadly predating the society. Women are just as capable as men to lead.” Proud and stern as she is in her statement, she continues that it was still a challenge on some occasions. “Since working in the kitchen, I always told myself to never be perceived as weak, or not get intimidated by my male colleagues, and to always be competitive, but eventually it took a negative toll on me. It was unhealthy and making me too stressed. I knew I needed to change my way of thinking and working.” To this she saw that it was never about rising with the goal to overtake others but to rise for oneself. “I realized that it must start with my belief and trust in myself. Nothing can be achieved if you keep on comparing yourself to others. I then assessed my strengths and capabilities. I had to understand which skills and areas I am good at, and which I needed to work on.” In reassessing her perspective she adds, “I did not let the idea that because it is a highly male dominated profession, it will be very hard for me to succeed. Instead, I took it as my challenge, to beat the status quo and prove something to myself. … I focused on getting better and faster everyday, I worked hard, and along the way, I became an example to other people.” In this self realization, her journey became less about being a woman that can compete with men but more of a woman that can uplift others. “I have always envisioned myself to be a strong woman who can empower other women to take a stand and be able to lead.”
As she reflects on her accomplishments, she expressed her gratitude for the people that helped her reach this point in life. “I am blessed to be surrounded by very supportive people. My family has always been there to support my endeavors and cheer on my achievements.” In a technical sense, she also thanked her professors on her hard but well earned journey, “My mentors since I was in school to my chefs who constantly pushed me every step of the way are also the main reasons how I learned to toughen up in this challenging world. My time in New York was a defining moment in my journey. Everyday was tough, working long hours, and the task list just never seemed to end.” But in the end, all of these key lessons help her strike a balance in the juggling act that is managing a kitchen, “I had to learn doing multiple things at the same time. The experience really shaped me in every aspect. It was extremely hard, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
As complex as one’s career path can be, some consistent principles must always be set in place to guide one through their decisions. For Safa, a chef must always be willing to continue building on one’s knowledge, “I believe it would be the constant drive to learn and improve. Everyday, I show up to work, I know I will be doing the same routinary things, but I need to always find a way to keep getting better.” In a conscious effort to improve her skills in the most specific of details she adds, “I still remember putting a timer everytime I do a task, and trying to beat my record every single time. It has been a practice that made me become more and more efficient and effective.”
But beyond pushing oneself in technical proficiency, deeper lessons were also something she hold on to, she shares, “I also keep in mind and heart the learnings and values imparted to me by my mentors. The times I felt like I was under constant pressure and did not understand why we were pushed that way, were the exact same times where I learned a lot through the process. Nothing comes easy as they say and I am a testament to that.”