Italy’s Gastronomic Evangelist
Walking into a room with Massimo Bottura is like walking into one of the great theatres of the world. The man is operatic and colorful, in an endearing way. His ethereal words will comfort the soul and make you question the universe. His aura will inspire you to reach further. His knowledge will seep into those who listen to his words. You will laugh, ponder, and maybe even shed a tear. You will walk out of the room a better, more culturally curious being. He is not merely a chef, or the best chef in the world; he is a prophet for inspired living.
Bottura is a leading figure amongst a new generation of Italian chefs. His avant-garde techniques make him one of the most creative culinary forces in the world. This past summer, Bottura’s restaurant, Osteria Francescana, claimed the number one spot on the San Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. He is the first Italian chef to claim this honor, which many in the food business consider to be the highest level of achievement possible in the culinary world. This high honor is paired with three Michelin Stars, and a plethora of other awards and prizes which would take up way too much print to list.
What exactly does being on the top 50 list for the past eight years mean to Bottura? «The restaurants in the top 50 build culture, they do something different» he states. «Otherwise there is no sense, why we are there and other great restaurants are not.» Bottura and his talented team create their unique culture from a small space in Modena located at 22 Via Stella. «Culture creates knowledge, knowledge brings consciousness, consciousness brings responsi-bility.»
Are these the words of a chef, or a provocateur of thought? Bot-tura not only wants to feed our appetite, he strives to feed our minds - and he does so by using culture as a tool. He actually says that culture is the most important ingredient he uses. «Culture is what you need to have a dialogue, to express yourself with good ideas,» he adds. «The chef is not the sum of his recipes, he’s much more - it’s not just about the quality of the ingredients, it’s about the quality of the ideas.»
Bottura believes that traditions root us in a place, culture and time, but they must never be stagnant.
«Traditional food is the
«Being contemporary means
knowing everything and forgetting about everything,» says Bottura.
result of a successful experiment, we must conti-nue to evolve our palates and our techniques and remain flexible in the kitchen to new ideas, ingredients and concepts,» he claims. This loaded statement makes all the sense in the world. Bot-tura is a student of the past, but does not dwell in the past. He learns from what has been done, and he destroys it. Out of this destruction comes great rebirth - the ability to mirror the pastand recreate it in your own vision. He studies the mould, destroys it, and recreates it as he sees fit; making it his own. His art.
His genius is now being praised the world over. He has not killed Italian cuisine, he has given it a fresh take, and has put Modena on the map.
Osteria Francescana is more than just a restau-rant, it is a place that must be experienced and appreciated. Art is very much an integral part of Bottura’s philosophy.
Bottura’s wife, Lara Gilmore, introduced the su-perstar chef to the world of the arts, transforming him from regular restaurateur to global superstar.
Art is very much an integral
part of Bottura’s philosophy
«I’m so focused on music and art... the dialogue with music is extremely important» says the54-year-old.
I dropped the lemon tart, Osteria Francescana’s signature dessert, was the title of an art exhibit in New York’s SoHo district where artists were confronting imperfection. «Maybe it’s the first time in history that a chef inspired art, usually it’s the opposite.»
The lemon tart dessert is exactly what Bottura preaches. Destruction followed by rebirth. The brittle pastry being destroyed actually turns into a beautiful expression of creative indifference.
Osteria Francescana has housed creative works such as Francesco Vezzoli’s “La Vie en Rose”, Carlo Benvenuto’s “Table and glass” and Mario Sciffano’s “World Map”. This impressive collec-tion has expanded to include “No idea... that’s bad.”
“You have to have a dream, because if you can dream it, you can do it,» he says. «But the young generation, they lose themselves, they stop dreaming.”
At that moment, it dawned on me - this man’s sole purpose on earth was not to cook food, it is to provoke thought and stimulate ideas. To destroy and rebuild with the inspiration he surrounds himself with. However, he also believes in a higher purpose.
Bottura believes that the role of a contemporary chef is about in-volving others, and he has been doing exactly what he preaches. The Italian chef has used his celebrity and charm to bring about social change.
During the 2015 Universal Exposition in Milan, Bottura spearheaded a social experiment centered around food waste. He created the Refettorio Ambrosiano otherwise known as Food for Soul. The Refettorio, a contemporary soup kitchen, was created in collaboration with the Vatican and Caritas. Many top chefs from Italy and abroad joined Bottura during the 5 months of the EXPO Milan, cooking for the city’s needy and sharing innovative recipes for reducing waste in the kitchen.
Bottura duplicated the concept at this year’s Rio Olympic games, setting up the Refettorio Gastromotiva in Rio De Janeiro’s Lapa neighborhood. The kitchen was powered by a generator and
Massimo Bottura and his wife Lara Gilmore
Profilo di Stile
used food surplus from the Olympic venues to feed underpri-vileged locals.
The Next step: Montreal and New York City. Bottura has hinted at a possible Refettorio in Montreal’s Little Italy district, above the Marche Jean Talon. The world’s top chef is convinced Montreal is ready to fight food waste.
He then plans to open a Refettorio in the Bronx, with none other than Academy Award Laureate Robert De Niro. The Bronx Refettorio will be supported by the Italian Consulate in New York.
The world has learned to love Massimo Bottura not only for his brilliance in the kitchen, but his vision and compassion towards making the world a better place.
We must give this man a standing ovation.
In turn, he will bow, exit stage left - and move on with his constructive disruption of the world around him.