What is striking about his work, aside from his creations, of course, is his calm attitude and the impression of working in harmony in his kitchen. After all, he comes from a background rich in diversity and perhaps for this reason Massimo Bottura is far from the classic image of a chef. At Osteria Francescana the kitchen is a culinary laboratory, a hotbed of recipes, some of which have written the history of world gastronomy. “I try to always be positive; I’m a person full of energy. However, that doesn’t mean that I’m not rigorous. Rigorous and rigid are not synonymous. For me it’s essential to leave space for the unexpected and to draw inspiration from anything.”
Open to the world, with ideas firmly rooted in Italian tradition, especially that of Emilia, Bottura is currently the best chef in the world and you have to book months in advance to eat in his restaurant. Nothing is taken for granted; to taste means to savour, slowly and mindfully. This is what led to his most famous provocation, Tortellini walking on broth: six tortellini resting on a thin layer of thickened capon broth. To draw attention to the pasta and the filling. To cause you to eat them one at a time. In Modena, where there are never enough tortellini in the bowl!
It was a wager that he won, like many others. Then again, as he says: “The results are the outcome of the love we have for what we do.”
Contemporary art and music have influenced his idea of cooking and his relationship with tradition and the masters. Bottura’s poetics can be found precisely in this interconnection of the arts. The story of his dishes is one of flashes of inspiration and suggestions that have come through installations and pieces of music. Pathways of professional growth parallel to and overlapping those of human growth. “The realms of my passions have always been inseparable and are the expressions of my feelings. My dishes are attempts at answering the questions I ask myself”.
Some are painstakingly studied (e.g. The five ageing stages of Parmesan), others improvised to get out of a scrape (e.g. Oops, I’ve dropped my tart). There are dishes created on special occasions, with the specific intention of using leftovers, such as Risotto with pecorino and pepper, invented to save the wheels of Parmigiano destroyed by the earthquake in Emilia. It is an intellectual challenge, a testing ground for himself and his creativity. However, there is also a deeper meaning behind these projects, linked to his past and the way he sees the world.
“The idea of no waste has always been fundamental in Osteria Francescana. In 2015, I accepted the challenge presented by the theme of the EXPO, first by founding Refettorio Ambrosiano, followed immediately by my non-profit organisation Food for Soul. For me, the signature dish of the Refettorio was Bread is Gold. Dry bread is a kind of symbol of our waste and to create a dessert starting from this, recalling how my mother made me eat bread, milk and sugar at bedtime, was the first step towards understanding that everything recovered is a gain. It’s literally gold”. Like the prestige of his creations. Like the fame of Italian cuisine, first in the world thanks to his genius.
All photos from the book Come to Italy with me, courtesy of L’ippocampo Edizioni