She’s the powerhouse behind our latest Dine at Home menu conception; an intercontinental taste adventure, taking your tastebuds to lands far and wide. Having grown up in the Philippines, travelling the world and working in Michellin-star restaurants, she knows a thing or two about food.
But don’t take our word for it, let’s hear from Jessa herself…
When did your relationship with food begin?
From childhood really, my mum was always in the kitchen. She was the middle-child of a family of 13 and that meant there were plenty of mouths to feed! My family have a passion for food; 3 of my uncles are professional chefs and a number of my cousins are starting their careers in the industry.
And what about your passion for travelling?
My mum travelled to Abu Dhabi with my aunt, where she met my dad who was working there as a Mechanical Oil & Gas Engineer. This is where our lives as a third culture family began. I was born in the Philippines, my brother Jason was born in Libya. Our family travelled around the world throughout our childhood and a love of food was passed from both parents, so I had no hope!
Was your childhood solely based in the Philippines?
Far from it! During my childhood we moved to Indonesia, Trinidad & Tobago and the United States to name a few, but we always returned to the Philippines so it has a sense of home. Our family holidays would be spent in Austria every 1-2 years to visit my grandparents and sister. My passport has seen a lot of stamps!
What does food mean to you?
In the Philippines, we like to put a lot of food on the table; it’s a sign of generosity and love, and this has stuck with me throughout my life.
Did your family ever try Austrian-Filipino fusion?
Yes, but it never worked! There was always an exchange of food; in the Philippines we call this a balikbayan box, a box full of goodies! My dad would reserve a suitcase for as much Austrian food he could pack to take home! As I said, in the Philippines we like to put a lot of food on the table, so there was always a cross-culture element but we never solely tried to fuse the two influences into one dish.
What made you choose hospitality as a career?
Mainly on how I was raised; my family had such a passion for food & travel there was no other career I could ever truly see myself in. I enjoyed travelling and discovering new cultures across the world and I wanted to continue that exploration. And here we are!
Where did your culinary journey begin?
Officially? At home, cooking with my mum and learning flavour profiles from a young age. Once I chose my career, I enrolled at Enderun College; a school in the Philippines which is affiliated with Alain Ducasse, which is a strong culinary programme in France. I originally signed up to study Hospitality Management but transferred over to the culinary programme. The chefs managing the programme had worked in Ducasse Restaurants across France and they had a heightened experience which opened my eyes into the insight of a level of cooking I hadn’t experienced before.
After you left the Philippines, where did you go?
I left the Philippines about 11 years ago and I was lucky enough to be invited for a stage at a 3 Michelin star restaurant, The Fat Duck in England. In the 6 months I spent there, it was a shocking reality to the elevated level that food could become. It was a quick and steep learning curve, but I am so thankful that I got to experience it.
Are there any skills you learned from Heston Blumenthal that you use today?
Heston is always on the search of “perfection”. There is no such thing as perfection but the thought of perfection is what drives him to that elevated level, and this has always stuck with me.
We had an experimental kitchen at The Fat Duck, where we would explore and develop dishes to make them “perfect”, this could take up to a year or more as they’re trying to perfect each individual element of a dish and concept.
It made me realise that cooking is more than just cooking, there’s thought, planning and exploration and that’s where Heston really nailed it. There’s philosophy, history, memory and so many more elements than just the ingredients.
It’s an experience I will never forget.
How did you carry on your passion for food?
I had previously met Giorgio Nava who owned a 36,000 hectare farm in western Cape Town, along with two restaurants in Cape Town; 95 Keerom & Carne. He invited me to learn more about his cooking style and how he raises his beef, it’s honestly the best steak I’ve ever eaten in my life! We travelled 6 hour drive to his farm, which I could only describe as being in the centrefold of National Geographic, standing amongst free-range water buffalo, lambs, impalas, he had it all! The grass is so herbaceous there, it adds a flavour to the meat I have never experienced before.
Any other restaurants that have influenced you?
After completing the Ducasse programme in the Philippines, I thought it would only make sense to work in a Ducasse restaurant in Paris, which is what I did. And this is the restaurant that I really learned to cook. It was a 2 Michelin star restaurant called Rech and I was the commis in a small, 4-man team, in a 90-cover restaurant. It was a high-pressure and fast-paced but high-learning environment that I am forever grateful to have experienced it.
Would you do anything differently if you had the chance?
There’s always the debate “is culinary school worth it?”, for me if I was to advise my younger self, I would say experience is key. Experience as many tastes, cultures and hospitality environments as you can.
Tell us about the Home Dining Experience at Llys Meddyg…
I joined the Llys Meddyg team after surprisingly becoming a local in Pembrokeshire (we had never planned this, and I’m a planner!). Thanks to Covid, our plans in Australia were put to an end relatively quickly. After having a chat with Ed, we came up with a Dine at Home concept with a difference. I think it’s incredible that we’re here in beautiful Pembrokeshire, in a small country town and we get to travel the world through taste and imagination.