Montreal

It's official. The top female chef in Italy is from Montreal's West Island

Quebec chef Jessica Rosval, who grew up in Dollard-des-Ormeaux, was named female chef of the year in the 2021 Guida dell'Espresso. Here's how she got from studying at the Institut de tourisme et d'hôtellerie du Québec to working with Massimo Bottura.

Quebec chef Jessica Rosval honoured in 2021 Guida dell'Espresso

Jessica Rosval is a Quebec-born chef recently named Italy's best female chef in the Guida dell'Espresso. (Photo by Stefano Scatà)

A Quebec chef is making a name for herself in the international culinary world.

Jessica Rosval, 35, has been named female chef of the year in the Guida dell'Espresso — a yearly publication that is considered the definitive guide to the best restaurants in Italy.

While she's found success working at Massimo Bottura's deluxe bed and breakfast in Modena, the Casa Maria Luigia, Rosval got her start in Montreal.

Rosval grew up in Dollard-des-Ormeaux and attended Dawson College and the Institut de tourisme et d'hôtellerie du Québec.

She told CBC's All in a Weekend that she first developed an interest in the culinary arts when she was in high school, working as a hostess at an Italian restaurant in the West Island after school.

"I would just watch the kitchen in awe because, for me, it was this crazy, energy-packed place that was like this beating heart of the entire restaurant where chaos had some kind of sense, where everyone was so passionate and so dedicated to their craft. And that's what really motivated me to get into the kitchen," she said.

This caesar salad is prepared with edible flower petals picked in the gardens of Casa Maria Luigia. (@casamarialuigia/Instagram)

Rosval said when she told her parents she wanted to become a chef, they were surprised. She hadn't expressed much interest in cooking at home before. But they were supportive of her choice and encouraged her to pursue a career she'd be passionate about.

"I love cooking and I love food, but what I love the most about it is the world that surrounds the food and beverage industry. I love this camaraderie, this teamwork, this mission that we all go on, like a pirate ship; you're out on an adventure with this one goal in mind, just to put people at a table and make them feel good and happy."

Rosval said being exposed to different styles of cuisine, approaches and mentors opened her eyes about what was possible.

"I started realizing that the world of food and cuisine was basically limitless and that's something that fascinates me even 20 years later, is that you've never learned everything. And there's always something more to learn and more to explore when it comes to food."

Listen to Jessica Rosval reflect on her culinary journey:

Jessica Rosval, chef at the luxurious Casa Maria Luigia, outside Modena, Italy, has been awarded the title of female chef of the year, in the prestigious dell’Espresso restaurant guide. She explains why she fell in love with the hustle and bustle of the restaurant kitchen as a teen and shares what she now tries to communicate through her award-winning food. 13:31

After working under chefs Laurent Godbout in Montreal and Melissa Craig in Whistler, B.C., Rosval got her big break in an unexpected way.

One week after arriving in Italy in 2013, she dined at Massimo Bottura's three Michelin-starred restaurant Osteria Francescana.

On the menu was a 12-course tasting that was intended as an introduction to regional Italian cuisine.

"I was blown away at how emotionally moved I was, about how much I learned about Italy, how I felt that I had actually travelled around the entire country but just through this 12-course tasting menu," she said.

Jessica Rosval said being honoured for her work at Casa Maria Luigia is something she shares with her whole team. (Photo by Stefano Scatà)

When Bottura came out to greet the dinner guests, Rosval seized a chance to chat with him about her career aspirations and her appreciation for his food.

"I said 'Okay, I have his attention, you know, time to ask for a job.'"

The next day she emailed Bottura, laying her cards on the table and begging for a chance to work with him. He agreed to take her on for a few days as a trial.

Now she's the head chef at Casa Maria Luigia.

Rosval said cooking Italian fare, she's tried to sneak in a few odes to her Quebec heritage.

"Maple syrup — I get it imported," she said. "The Italians love it."

Rosval said that being recognized as a top female chef is an honour she shares with her team. 

It's also a story she wants to share with other women who are just starting out.

As part of her work, Rosval offers cooking classes to newly arrived migrants. In a post on Instagram, she wrote: "I am inspired by their strength, their bravery coming into a new country and their openness to learn. The future is bright and the future is female." (@jessrosval/Instagram)

Beyond her commitments in the kitchen, Rosval is also the culinary director at a non-profit called the Association for the Integration of Women.

The organization offers a four-month culinary training program for migrant women who are arriving in Italy alone or with children.

The program is meant to teach job skills, language courses and help with cultural integration.

For Rosval, the mission has personal significance.

"I am a migrant woman as well, I moved here eight years ago. I didn't speak a word of Italian. I had to integrate into the culture as well," she said.

"And this is just really a beautiful sign from Italy accepting me into their culinary culture by giving me this award. And I'm super humbled but I'm also super proud because I can now share that story with these women."

With files from CBC's All in a Weekend

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