How Modena is Nurturing a New Generation of Migrant Female Chefs

Egusi soup, a typical North West African stew, is served with baccalà mantecato as a nod to its traditional iteration with fish. Bitter greens are replaced with locally grown Swiss chard and spinach, and the stew is thickened using blended melon seeds, which has been a revelation for Rosval. The culinary director has also become a dab hand at making couscous under Mahmoudi’s guidance. Although most dishes are a far departure from the glossy egg pasta and tortelloni Modena is famous for, they are rooted in local ingredients. For example, Mahmoudi makes traditional Tunisian recipes but uses Parmigiano Reggiano in them. “So let’s talk about cultural contamination and letting your heart be open to that,” says Rosval.

Dishes on the table at Root restaurant

Credit: Gloria Soverini

“I was making mlewi the other week, typical Tunisian bread, and I think that what that attests to is just how much there really is out there. With a curious mind and an open spirit, you can really go out there and really absorb the world in this beautiful way, and we’re doing that through food.”

Jessica Rosval teaching students at Roots

Credit: Gloria Soverini

While Rosval comes from a country with limited culinary tradition, and has contemporary culinary training, she is discovering the the importance of tradition in food through the initiative. In fact, both Rosval and Caporossi are quick to admit that this is as much a learning process for them as it is for their students. “It’s just been a really crazy experience in terms of how much we’ve also been able to learn. We went off saying, now we’re going to teach our skills. We’ve grown so much and learnt so much and absorbed so much,” says Rosval.

“Working with chefs like Zouhaira, Mercy and Fanta, who are really showing me traditional recipes and their traditional approaches to cooking. They’re so deeply rooted in that recipe with those ingredients as they are. And that again is really exposing me to the importance of protecting those traditions, and it’s again about finding that balance myself.”

Listen to Mercy’s story:

When it comes to kitchen culture and embracing diversity in the kitchen, not only from a cultural but also a gender perspective, Rosval believes that addressing the ‘human factor’ in kitchens begins here, with education and training. “How can we change our industry for the better? How can we go out and break bad habits that exist in the restaurant world? We do that with education. And that education is where we’re starting at right now.”

“What we can communicate through food is really limitless. It’s a vehicle for this communication that is just astounding.”

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