Rossana Bewick, a native of Milan who helped bring authentic Italian dining to the Twin Cities almost four decades ago, died in late November at an Edina hospice after a four-year battle with ovarian cancer. She was 73.
When Bewick first arrived in the Twin Cities in the late 1970s, she missed the fresh mozzarella, prosciutto, tomatoes, olive oil and wines of home, according to her husband, Roy. Back then the only Parmesan cheese available in Minnesota was manufactured by U.S. corporations, he said.
“She got here and was very surprised to find out our menus were steak, chicken and pork chops, and if you went to some place fancy it might be oysters Rockefeller,” he said.
Then she met Nancy and David Webb, whom she introduced to authentic Italian cuisine. The Webbs, along with David’s brother Rick, eventually opened CocoLezzone in Golden Valley, bringing higher-end multicourse Italian dining to the Twin Cities. And Bewick supervised the kitchen.
Rossana and Roy Bewick met in 1972 when they worked together on a project for 3M that he was managing in Italy. They reconnected when his marriage ended. The couple married in 1977 and moved to Shoreview.
After shaking off her first few months of culinary and culture shock, Rossana Bewick went to work as a receptionist at KSTP Radio and taught Italian for Berlitz Language Schools. She became a translator for the University of Minnesota and St. Paul-based Johnson Brothers Liquor Co., led gourmet tours of Italy and worked as a travel agent to defray the cost of trips home to see her parents.
Through those connections, she eventually met the Webbs and led them on a tour of Italy, where they were first exposed to the native cuisine.
The result was CocoLezzone, which the Star Tribune dubbed “a Reagan-era hot spot.” Bewick worked there as a chef, consultant and “barometer for Italian authenticity,” and provided the same services at other local Webb restaurants: Coco Cha Cha, Bacio, Zelo and Ciao Bella.
Before Bewick, “nobody had ever heard of secondi,” Nancy Webb said, referring to the meat course that comes after the pasta in a traditional Italian meal. “We had to train and teach people.”
Webb said that Bewick insisted on the finest ingredients, no short cuts.
“She was a female working in a kitchen that was predominantly male and they all bowed to her, which was unheard of,” Webb said. “They all respected her. It was amazing.”
Webb now operates the Good Day Cafe on the site of the former CocoLezzone. “Rosie’s grilled chicken breast” with basil, garlic and lemon, named for Bewick, remains on the menu.
Roy Bewick said his wife could think in flavors and never cooked the same meal twice. “She’d take what normal people would throw away and make a meal of it,” he said.
Both Webb and Roy Bewick talked about his wife’s “magnetic charisma” and love of making new friends. The couple loved to travel and take cruises — “She liked the sea,” he said of his wife — and saw much of the world from Sweden to the Seychelles.
In 2004, they moved to Perugia, Italy, where they lived until Bewick was diagnosed with cancer. She returned to Minnesota for treatment in 2016, her husband said.
In addition to her husband, Bewick is survived by stepchildren Sheree Bewick of Red Wing, Paul Bewick of White Bear Lake and Julie Caffari of Spring Lake Park, and numerous grandchildren. A celebration of Bewick’s life, with lots of Italian classics, will be held from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. on Jan. 14 at the Good Day Cafe, 5410 Wayzata Blvd., Golden Valley.