By some miracle, Jessica Rosval nabbed a table at Modena’s famed Osteria Francescana seven days after landing in Italy in 2013 – just in time for her 28th birthday. Chef Massimo Bottura was serving a 12–course tasting menu and, dish by dish, the Canadian chef was swept away. “At the end of dinner, I knew my future was in Modena,” Rosval says. She cancelled the rest of her trip and persuaded Bottura to take her on at the three–Michelin–starred restaurant. The life–altering meal led to her eventual appointment as head chef at Casa Maria Luigia, where her mastery of Modenese cuisine has earned wide acclaim. As Bottura proclaims, in Modena, slow food and fast cars reign, and Rosval couldn’t agree more. “It’s a city full of contrasts, from aged prosciutto and Parmigiano–Reggiano to ultra–new Ferraris and Ducatis.”
Chef Jessica Rosval of Casa Maria Luigia shows us her favourite spots for jazz, art and traditional dishes.
FRANCESCHETTA58 —The menu at this Osteria Francescana–family gastro bistro always changes, as the ingredients vary with the seasons. I usually pop in on Monday evenings for favourites like the risotto with smoked eel from Po River. The smoky flavours mixed with sharp horseradish remind me of home.
ROOTS —I co–founded this non–profit restaurant and social project as a culinary training program for migrant women in our community. We invite diners to discover the beautiful diversity of Modena through a menu flavoured by the origins of our trainees.
COTTON CLUB SPEAKEASY —Every Sunday night there’s a different band playing mostly jazz or blues here. There is a very “speakeasy” vibe to the place and the crowd is more mature – made up of people who enjoy a quality cocktail and great music.
PARCO GIARDINO DUCALE ESTENSE —Summers in Modena are very hot and there is ample shade here to relax and picnic with friends. I love visiting in the afternoons on my days off. The Palazzina dei Giardini often hosts art and historical exhibitions as well.
ANTICA OSTERIA DEL MIRASOLE —This rustic restaurant is dedicated to protecting and perfecting time–honoured Modenese recipes. It’s so important to have a deep respect for history and tradition before trying experimental cuisine.
Our interview with Jessica
enRouteTell us about Roots, your newly opened restaurant. What inspired you to open it?
Jessica Rosval Roots is the non–profit restaurant and social project that I co–founded along with Caroline Caporossi and Maria Assunta Ioele. We launched Roots after Caroline became friends with a Nigerian woman in Modena, who after three years in the country was still unable to fulfill her dream of being the first woman in her family to work. We realized that this was a reoccurring theme in our community, and throughout the European Union. Migrant women are deemed one of the most disadvantaged groups of people when it comes to participation in the workforce and social inclusion. They are some of the lowest paid workers in Europe and are often pushed into underpaid and unregulated jobs.
We first launched Association for the Integration of Women (AIW) in 2020 with the idea of developing different programs that would help marginalized migrant women integrate into the Italian workforce. After raising money through the AIW, we were able to launch a four–month culinary training program focused on building technical and non–technical skills. Finally, in March 2022, we opened the door to Roots, a permanent space where we continue to train groups of migrant women in our community with job placement at the end of the program.
We serve a menu that is inspired by the origins of our trainees, so that the Modenese can come to Roots and discover the beautiful diversity that exists in our town. The menu changes with every new group. It is a place where we are working and training, but also building a resilient community and strong friendships.
ERYou have described Osteria Francescana as an “ethical kitchen.” What does that mean to you?
JREthical kitchens strive to create sustainable work environments, for the betterment of the planet and for the people working in them. That is the future of the restaurant industry.
At all our restaurants, we prioritize the well–being of the staff, ensuring that they have work–life balance, fair pay, and equal work and growth opportunities. I believe in giving valuable constructive feedback to the chefs and really focusing on helping them work toward achieving their goals. Every day that my team walks into the kitchen I want them to feel a sense of pride working for our company, but also a sense of personal satisfaction that they are building strong futures for themselves.
From an environmental standpoint, we put immense effort into solving the problem of food waste with our daily actions, including finding creative solutions, and new applications for food that would otherwise be thrown away. Food for Soul is the non–profit founded by Massimo Bottura, with the goal of fighting food waste in cities around the world by building Refettorios – or soup kitchens – that take food surplus from supermarkets and other purveyors and transform it into meals for people in need.
ERAs a Montreal native, how does your Canadian heritage inspire your work?
JRI believe that Canadians are inherently open–minded and accepting people. Big cities in Canada, like Montreal, are homes to different cultures from around the world, where we all celebrate each other’s origins. Travelling to different countries, cooking different ingredients and dishes, and embracing new methods and ideas keep my cuisine evolving and reflecting the different experiences affecting me at that specific moment in time.
ERHow does being a chef inform your approach to travel – do you pick destinations based on your palate?
JREvery chef should travel. Be curious, keep your mind open, let yourself be carried away by new experiences, absorb everything. This is how we keep learning and evolving, through our experiences. I don’t pick destinations based on what I want to eat, but I eat traditional food when travelling to get to know the new destination. Food has incredible storytelling power, and we can learn so much about a new place through the local dishes.
ERWhat are your carry–on essentials?
JRI always have a book. Any book. Reading and expanding our minds is fundamental for the chefs of the future. We should never stop learning and growing.
JRThe best souvenirs from trips have to be the people I meet while I travel. I stay connected to the people I meet for years and every time we reconnect, we reminisce. I also treasure the knowledge I gain in every new place, including new recipes that I can cook later and allow myself to be transported back to where I found them.
ERFirst travel memory?
JRMy grandfather was a pilot for Air Canada, so I have so many memories of flying as a child from Montreal to Vancouver to visit family. That was when you could still go and visit the pilot in the cockpit, and I just remember being so amazed that someone could remember what each button did.
JREverywhere! I have been travelling for so many years, and the more places I go, the more I realize there is so much more to see! I love nature and I hope some of my next stops will be Costa Rica, New Zealand and Iceland — places where I can explore natural beauty and discover new flavours.