MODENA: Massimo Bottura needs no introduction. Known mostly for as the chef-patron together with his wife Lara Gilmore of Osteria Francescana in Modena, today he is the best known Italian face in the world of gastronomy.
At a recent e-Class he explained his mantra to never renounce to books and to great quality ingredients.
The e-Class was organised by the Italian Chamber of Commerce of the Benelux country as part of the True Italian taste initiative, which aims to showcase the exceptional produce that comes out of Italy. And it was fitting for Massimo Bottura to represent and showcase these ingredients.
I’m given the opportunity to ask Massimo a question and I wanted to understand his take on Italian cuisine outside Italy. Over the past few years, the Italian offer outside Italy has improved considerably in all corners of the world. While pizza and pasta remain Italy’s most ‘exported food’ there is another, more sophisticated approach to cooking Italian food outside Italy. At times it is a reflection of the chef and sometimes a bit too fusion for those who know Italian cuisine.
So I asked Massimo how he would define Italian food outside of Italy and whether there is a risk that Italian food becomes a fusion as it mixes with other cultures or ingredients.
“There are basics that cannot be replaced. Of course, if we speak of Aceto Balsamico, Parmigiano Reggiano, Prosciutto di Parma, these are fundamental ingredients that also have certain characteristics that are distinct and make them irreplaceable,” he said.
“In my Los Angeles restaurant, I can never recreate my dish Ooops I broke the lemon tart. If you don’t have the lemons from Sorrento, the capers from Sicily you cannot create the conditions to make it perfectly. But the team can work with local ingredients that might give you other results.”
Massimo adds that for example, with Gucci Osteria in the US, he has asked his chefs to use sea urchins from Santa Barbara. They are making a ‘sea’ carbonara that is profoundly Italian,” he says. “I tell my chefs outside Italy that they need to work with their emotions and their history. You need to think local but always keep in mind the exceptional quality of Italian ingredients.”
In his view, to make a spaghetti with a fresh tomato sauce anywhere in the world you don’t need to get tomatoes from Italy but rather the best fresh tomatoes you can find and recreate the sauce maying using an olive oil from the South of Italy or topping it with Parmigiano Reggiano for example.
He speaks of pasta as a prime example. “Some people may think that eight euros per kilo for pasta is too much. There are of course much cheaper options. But fundamentally it is a question of choice. No one has qualms with buying a phone costing EUR 1,000 each year. But then they hesitate to buy quality ingredients which make all the difference in a dish. It is all a question of priorities.”
The Italian chef said that his battle is that of ensuring that artisans and producers get what they deserve. “This is a dream but we need to ensure that industry takes a step back and think about the ethics of paying nothing for the work of farmers. Recently, we had 1,000 kilos of spelt in the garden of Casa Maria Luigia. It was more than we needed. They offered us 280 euros for this. This is madness. 280 euros for 1,000 kilos of organic spelt. We packed it ourselves and sent it to our refettorios (soup kitchens). If we do not pay the producers and farmers what they deserve we will end up losing them,” he said.
Massimo speaks of one of his signature dishes a ‘Magnum of Fois Gras’. He has taken a highly recognisable commercial ice-cream and has enveloped fois gas in hazelnuts from Piedmont and Sicilian almonds from Noto. In the centre there is his 50 year old aged Balsamic vinegar. “The Fois Gras represents a part of my past, i.e. my training with Georges Cogny in France” and is covered with ingredients from two regions on the borders of Italy with at the centre my region. This is Italy. It is the sun, the fog, the high temperatures, the coast along the Mediterranean. It is this incredibly biodiversity that is at the heart of Italy,” he said.
Giving advice to young chefs, Massimo said that a young chef needed to have an obsession for work, for studying and to travel as much as possible and also absorb as much culture as possible. “It is essential to travel with the eyes and ears wide open. Read as much as you can but read books not just surf the web. A chef should never forget from where he comes and who he is. His cuisine needs to be his own expression,” he said.
Who is Massimo Bottura
Massimo Bottura opened Osteria Francescana in Modena in 1995. An innovator and restauranteur for over twenty years, Bottura has consolidated his reputation as one of the world’s most creative culinary figures. His internationally renowned three Michelin star restaurant, Osteria Francescana, was named number 1 on The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list in 2016 and for the second time in 2018.
In 1986 Massimo Bottura departed on his life’s journey when he bought Trattoria del Campazzo on the outskirts of Modena. Working alongside Lidia Cristoni and an apprenticeship with French chef Georges Coigny, he built his culinary foundation on a combination of regional Italian cooking and classical French training.
In 1994 Bottura sold Campazzo and departed for Montecarlo to work with Alain Ducasse at Louis XV. This experience proved invaluable for the chef and lead to opening Osteria Francescana a year later in his hometown of Modena. Several years later, Bottura had another life changing experience with Ferran Adria at El Bulli during the summer of 2000.
Bottura’s kitchen walks a thin line between tradition and innovation. His dishes explore the deep roots of the Italian kitchen while making references to history, art and philosophy. In 2002 Bottura received his first Michelin star followed by the second in 2006. Among numerous awards, he received the prestigious “Grand Prix de l’Art” from the International Culinary Academy in Paris in 2011 and a confirmation of a life long ambition with the third Michelin star. Osteria Francescana has been ranked at the top of the Italian food guides for the past five years.
Never Trust a Skinny Italian Chef is the title of Massimo Bottura’s first English language book published by Phaidon Press in 2014. It documents the past twenty years of cooking as well as the evolution of Osteria Francecana through images, storytelling and the iconic recipes.
Massimo Bottura has been also recognized for his commitment against food waste and social isolation, calling for social responsibility among the culinary community. During Expo 2015, the chef created an off-site Expo project called the Refettorio Ambrosiano, a community kitchen in which chefs from around the world joined him to transform food surplus from the exhibition into healthy meals for those in need. As a consequence of the success of the project, Massimo founded the non- profit organization Food for Soul together with his wife Lara Gilmore. Since then, Food for Soul has established other projects: Refettorio Gastromotiva in Rio de Janeiro, Refettorio Felix in London, Refettorio Paris and Social Tables in Modena, Bologna and Naples.
In order engage the wider audience in the fight against food waste, Massimo Bottura collected recipes and experiences of the chefs who cooked at Refettorio Ambrosiano in a book called “Bread is Gold”, Published by Phaidon Press in 2017. Proceeds will help Food for Soul opening and sustaining new community kitchens around the world.
On February 6th, 2017 Massimo Bottura received a prestigious honorary degree in Business from the University of Bologna. Dean Francesco Ubertini stated, “Massimo Bottura’s work spreads across the fields of entrepreneurship, education and technique and represents a virtuous example of the promotion of Italian Culture and Made in Italy.” This was the first Laurea honoris causa awarded to a chef in the history of the University. On April 23rd, 2018, the Academy of Fine Arts of Carrara also awarded Bottura with a diploma honoris causa in Arts.
While Osteria Francescana invites diners on an iconoclastic re-imagining of the Italian kitchen, Bottura’s second restaurant, Franceschetta58, is a contemporary osteria that features exceptional ingredients served in a convivial atmosphere.
In addition to his restaurants, Massimo created the Villa Manodori product line of award winning balsamic vinegars and olive oils twenty years ago. Villa Manodori condiments are product of lifetime obsession with quality ingredients. Today the line products can be purchased at the finest gourmet markets around the world.
In 2019 Massimo Bottura and his wife Lara Gilmore opened Casa Maria Luigia, a 18th-century property surrounded by the agricultural landscape of the Emilian countryside, turned into guest house with the intention of extending the art of hospitality beyond the doors of Osteria Francescana.
The energetic and ever curious chef resides in his beloved hometown of Modena located in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy with Lara and their two children, Alexa and Charlie.