Cooking with Vanessa Gianfrancesco
All my life, food has been a source of inspiration. My earliest memories are set behind countertops and tables, surrounded by ingredients whose names I couldn’t yet remember but whose flavours I was already able to recognize. I was taken under my grandmothers’ and mother’s wings in the hopes of carrying on their recipes and traditions, and more than 20 years later, I have accomplished just that. My best recollections are of spending summer vacations in my grandmother’s kitchen, preparing meals for our family of 14. From fresh pastas to hearty minestrones made from our homegrown garden vegetables, I would spend my days experimenting with new recipes while the rest of the kids would be outside playing. My big—and hungry—Italian family was always the perfect test group! This not only developed my sense of taste but also awakened in me a deeply rooted passion for cooking and entertaining.
Despite my early exposure to and passion for cooking, being a chef was not always on my radar. I studied political science at McGill University in Montreal with the intention of becoming a lawyer. Towards the end of my bachelor’s degree, however, my thinking suddenly changed about my career path. One day, while job-shadowing a lawyer, I literally broke out in a cold sweat from head to toe. There was something missing in what I was witnessing. I could not say exactly what it was; all I knew was being a lawyer was not for me. After completing my bachelor’s degree, I decided that I would take a break from school. I was 23 at the time and told everyone that I was taking one year off to do something I always enjoyed so much—cooking! I applied and was accepted at Montreal’s culinary institute, ITHQ. It was there that I learned technique, discipline and a new respect for food, which have all culminated in the chef that I am today. It was a huge change of pace for me. I was one of the four women in the class and essentially had to fight my way through each semester, demonstrating and proving that I was meant to be there. It was one of the best yet toughest experiences in my life, because it was so physically and psychologically demanding. The one thing about me is that I never give up, and in this case I really didn’t! I graduated with honours, and even won a couple of cooking challenges along the way. Not only did I complete my schooling but I also had the privilege of working alongside Michelin Star chefs at private events (Michelin is a famous guide that awards stars to accomplished chefs and restaurants)—and do multiple internships in different high-end restaurants in the city. Each experience was so important to me and I made sure to take away something from each and every one.