Suzanne Rousseau and Michelle Rousseau : Building a culinary legacy based on food, fellowship and family

Stephanie Lyew

April 28, 2022

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THE DISTINGUISHED — FOOD

It has been said that “food is the ingredient that binds us together”. This is certainly true for sisters Michelle and Suzanne Rousseau, who, more than 25 years ago, embarked on a culinary experience together, not knowing that it would have taken them on a journey to creating an entrepreneurial legacy. The Rousseaus are driven by a sense of history, including that of their own ancestors who would have come to Jamaica via Haiti in the 19th century.

“The story about the way we got to where we are today always makes us marvel a bit. It sort of feels like something we fell into. Though we were always interested in stories of the past, it became very much a part of how we do what we do, which is taking heritage ideas and converting them into concepts that are relevant today,” Suzanne, the older of the two, told Flair.

Despite being different from one another, Suzanne shared that they have always been connected as siblings. “We weren’t the sisters that had a lot of disagreements growing up, but our interests were not only similar but complementary. And yes, we were raised in a family of entrepreneurs, but it is also important to mention that our father and grandfather believed in women working … we were empowered from a young age. We were never told we couldn’t do this or had to do that. It was a nurturing family where we were not raised to believe that we should limit ourselves,” she said. “Outside of enjoying and loving what we do, there was always a lot of creativity and interest in understanding our region and culture and translating that for other people.”

A television show, two books, a TEDx talk, and several investments later, including their restaurant and retail business, Summer House, the sisters have managed to bring their love for each other, family, history, food, music and other art forms – inspired by a Jamaican and Caribbean upbringing (as they also lived in Trinidad in the late 1970s) – to the forefront. Both graduated with honours from the University of Western Ontario in the mid-1990s and returned to Jamaica, where they established themselves as entrepreneurs.

“I believe we came back from university and kind of worked circumstantially with our mother and in starting our own retail business. We just dove into it. We didn’t think beyond the fact that it was all very symbiotic,” Michelle explained.

She further explained that by “allowing the magic to unfold”, they have been able to create a signature product that is refined, not rushed, and guided by the mantra ‘simple food, meant to be shared’, the sisters have introduced modern heritage dining through their brick-and-mortar venture, Summer House. The passionate duo is a force to be reckoned with, noting that “we are not little girls, we are women”.

“Women are not only intuitive, but they are wombs for creating life, and in understanding the inner workings of women, one will recognise they go through different chapters and that there is a time for everything. We trust that process because our most successful chapters have been birthed from that,” Michelle shared.

The Rousseau sisters accept the label of being perfectionists in their field but also pride themselves on providing a balance not just in the product or services they offer, but a balance for each other. Suzanne is quick to liken herself to the Tasmanian Devil cartoon character whirling around trying to get everything done in one go while Michelle remains the calmer of the two.

“Depending on the area of the business, I would be the one to say, ‘Oh my God, Suzanne, calm down!’ but I am very organised, and it also comes from experience, time, and learning from our own mistakes. We agree that there must be a certain level of service and expertise in what we do,” Michelle said.

“A lot of what we do seems relaxed and casual, but it is very orchestrated. There is structuring. Also, our goal is to treat everybody [in a way that] they feel included and like they had a taste of warm West Indian hospitality and had a leisurely afternoon on a lovely verandah in a Caribbean garden. We produce what we produce to our personal standard – which I must say is very high – and if those standards appeal across the board, then we have achieved what we set out to do,” she continued.

stephanie.lyew@gleanerjm.com

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Stephanie Lyew

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