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Jessica Rosval: Inner Fire

Quebecer Jessica Rosval, named Italy’s “top chef” in 2021, recognizes that the award has given her an exceptional platform to talk about what is truly important to her: her work in the kitchen of country hotel Casa Maria Luigia, sustainable gastronomy, and the urgent need to save our planet. Meet one of the culinary world’s rising stars.

Determined and passionate, Jessica Rosval has all the qualities of a fighter. The very first non-Italian to be named “Top Chef” by the prestigious Guide de L’Espresso, she is a perfect example of the new generation that wants to raise awareness and change the world of cooking.

Rosval’s mother was initially a little surprised when her 16-year-old daughter announced her intention to become a chef. “I’d always known that I wanted to travel. I convinced my mother by explaining that I could cook anywhere in the world.” She learned the basics of the profession from Laurent Godbout while studying at Quebec’s Institut de tourisme et d’hôtellerie (ITHQ) and then pursued her training with Chef Melissa Craig in Whistler. “The style was very different: the kitchen was calm; the food was healthy and focused on local products. I borrowed a lot from her approach to teamwork.” A nomad at heart, she picked up her backpack to travel across Europe; her visit to Italy was a turning point. “I always leave the door open to the unexpected. I arrived in Milan on October 13, 2013, and dined at Massimo Bottura’s Osteria Francescana on the 19th. We talked about the power of food and its ability to tell a story.” The famous chef then offered to help find her a job, and she chose his kitchen. “He gave me a two-day trial period. I didn’t speak Italian, but I was determined. I was ready to peel potatoes if I had to, just to be part of Osteria Francescana.” And she succeeded. She says that Chef Bottura taught her to be open to the world. “He showed me that inspiration is everywhere—in art, in books, in history, and in music.” He also taught her the human side of cooking, the importance of teamwork and of appreciating those around us.

Behind each dish, a story…
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Chef Massimo Bottura and Jessica Rosval put the finishing touches to one of the dishes of Francescana at Maria Luigia tasting menu: “The crunchy part of the lasagna”.

These lessons have become the modus operandi of a chef who would like to change the demands associated with the profession. “The endless hours, hard work, rigid environment—these are not a sustainable lifestyle. I’m attempting to build the future of the restaurant industry in my kitchen. I try to maintain a balance between work life and personal life. I’ve sat down with each of my cooks to find out how they view the future and what their goals are because they don’t just work for Casa Maria Luigia, they work for themselves. I don’t want them to quit the profession in ten years, saying that it’s too hard.” Long hours, working during the holidays, spending birthdays far from one’s friends and family—the profession demands constant sacrifice. “These sacrifices leave a mark on our lives, our hearts, and our connections with family. I’ve seen too many people suffer because of this and I’m determined to change it. We have a chance to welcome young chefs, train them, and tell them that they can build a sustainable life in this industry.”

Designed by Massimo Bottura and Lara Gilmore to ensure that guests feel at home, Casa Maria Luigia has broken new ground in both luxury accommodations and fine dining. “We serve three-star Michelin meals, but we also want our dining room to be a place where people can relax, feel at home, laugh, and mingle. A meal is composed of individual dishes, the service, having fun, and enjoying each other’s company.” The hotel offers three menus. The dinner menu is based on the concepts and dishes that Osteria Francescana in Modena is known for. Lunch is left to the guests’ discretion as they have all-day access to a refrigerator stocked with dishes made of local ingredients. However, the Sunday barbecues, one of Jessica’s creative projects, have taken on their own special flavour. “It all began innocently enough, after the first quarantine of the pandemic, when we invited people from the area to a communal barbecue, just to have fun.” Since then, the original idea has evolved, and while smokers, grills, and wood-fired stoves still evoke some nostalgia, they also help showcase Jessica’s talents. “The menu is a journey through the history of Italian cuisine as seen through the eyes of a foreigner as well as some discoveries I have made along the way.” Products from the Emilia-Romagna region are front and centre, along with some influences from home, like maple syrup and smoky flavours. “We don’t limit ourselves to traditional recipes. We let ourselves be influenced by our experiences and the people we’ve met. Cultural transfer does not happen when you import ingredients, but when you import ideas.”

A well-knit team at Casa Maria Luigia.
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“Oops! I dropped the lemon tart”, the iconic dessert of Osteria Francescana now part of the menu of Francescana at Casa Maria Luigia

Cooking has opened more than one door for Rosval, who has also found it to be a driving force for changes in mentality, whether one is talking about the concept of work, social inclusion, gender equality, or sustainable development. “We can develop sustainable eating habits and address climate change if we rethink the way that we produce and consume food.” She is so passionate about the subject that she devotes her free time to working in her non-profit restaurant. “I want be an example; I want to set trends that younger generations can follow. I want to heal the planet. If we don’t take action, in 20 years many of the ingredients we cook with now will no longer exist.”

Rosval has established herself in a creative environment that has helped her grow and work as part of a close-knit team. How does she see the future? “I’m fortunate to be part of all this and be able to carry out my own projects, but in my heart, the door is always open to the unexpected,” says the inveterate traveller. and

Maison Westmount carries an assortment of oils and vinegars produced by Massimo Bottura;

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Culinary creation with flavours from Emilia-Romagna.
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