Massimo Bottura, Chef and owner of Osteria Francescana in Modena, which ranks as fifth best restaurant in the world, talks to Swide about his first food memory, the future of Italian cuisine and much more…
tradition in evolution.
Massimo Bottura – with his restaurant Osteria Francescana in Modena – is one of the ambassadors of Italian cuisine abroad (together with Carlo Cracco, Davide Scabin and a few others). More than a 3 Michelin-starred Chef, who grew up in Modena, he is an inspirational story-teller who is constantly learning and innovating. At this year’s Identità Golose conference, he presented, as he always does, creations inspired by contemporary art and at the same time by Italian traditional cuisine.
Credits: Lienzo Culinario website
Talking to him – a man whose gastronomic philosophy has been shaped by men like Alain Ducasse and Ferran Adrià – like a window into the most innovative creation of contemporary Italian cuisine.
Your creations are always inspired by art: can you tell me why and how?
When you live a spontaneous, honest life, you surround yourself with really important things. It’s something that comes naturally, it makes you feel complete. My home is filled with paintings and artworks, there is no empty space, but not because I want to show off. It is because I try to live the artist’s philosophy in my real life, I take it as a path to follow. The love I have for art is the one that pushes me further to delve deeper into the meanings of life. Art is the higher form of communication, in the widest possible way: you get inspired by jazz music, by contemporary art and then, hopefully, by my dishes! (he laughs) No, seriously, what I mean is that I try to interpret the artist’s message and to make it mine, to translate it in life and in the dishes.”
Compressed “white meat texture” sea bass with rabbit cacciatore, “sea sand”, seaweed salad and crustacean sauce (photo: Docsconz)
What is your first food childhood memory?
It’s the kitchen table where I used to steal tortellini from down below, and then I would run away.
The kitchen was a safe place where I’d be sure to find my grandma who shielded me from my brothers with her rolling pin. It is a safe place today, still: that’s where I hide when something happens to me.
Is it in the kitchen, then, that your creative process starts?
The creative process is “I know everything and I forget about everything”. First of all you need to know, to study, that’s what I always say to young chefs. You cannot create a dish like the hare camouflage (that he brought at Identità Golose this year) without knowing French traditional cuisine, for example.
Camouflage or Hare in the Woods
You learn, and you gain knowledge through your travels, your readings, the music you love and then you compress everything. It’s a very particular moment and it’s difficult to describe it: imagine it as a dark room in which you suddenly forget everything you have learned and it’s from that precise moment that everything starts, that the search for your “signature”, your “sign” starts.
Because when a dish becomes a signature, something that identifies you, it’s a dish that lasts forever. Finding your signature it’s a turning point.
Parmigiano Reggiano in textures with Parmigiano cloud (photo: Docsconz)
Your dishes are deeply rooted in the land you grew up in, the Emilia region. Did your cuisine changed after the major earthquake that hit Emilia and particularly Modena, your city, in May 2012?
Yes, I think so, in the sense I have been incredibly touched by the event and it makes me incredibly happy to know that Gianni D’Amato Chef – two Michelin-star – from the Rigoletto restaurant, that had to close because of the earthquake, has just opened the Caffè Arti e Mestieri in Reggio Emilia. The project of fundraising for earthquake victims I did with Costa Crociere (he cooked on Costa Crociere Emilian based Christmas and New Years dinners that involved the work of hundreds of food artisans in Emilia whose economy was affected by earthquake) kept people busy and focused, and just when they thought they could not make it – they would call me and say to me “I can’t produce 1300 kilos of Torta Barozzi!” (Emilian specialty dessert) – they made the impossible possible. We did an extraordinary job. All because you always have to keep dreaming, never stop!
“Homage to Normandy” – oyster that is not an oyster (photo: Docsconz)
What does the Italian cuisine have to communicate today abroad?
It has to communicate the majesty of our artisans. The uniqueness of our raw materials. The knowledge of our chefs that are working hard to reach a modern cuisine, exquisite, light, healthy. It’s a splendid message we have to communicate. Look at the artwork “Capri Battery” by artist Joseph Beuys (an artist who inspired another creation brought at Identità Golose), it’s a message of energy, of dream, of light.
“Capri Battery” by artist Joseph Beuys (1985)
If you could bring only one dish as a representation of Italian cuisine to an alien, which one would be?
You are Emilian like me, which one could I bring in your opinion? Tortellini! In the tortellino there is all the knowledge of centuries of history, the concept you can’t throw anything away, so you create a filling by mixing different meats and ingredients, there is the fresh pasta, the broth and the boiled meat. There is the history of when people started to boil meat in 1200 as a family moment, as a strategy of economy, “I boil meat so I kill two birds with one stone”. There is everything there.
You always look back to the past for your dishes, but you are always also looking into the future…
I pursue a special kind of tradition, a tradition in evolution! It’s not that sort of dusty tradition kept under a glass in a museum, it’s a tradition that constantly evolves, that’s alive. If today I cook a cotechino (an Italian charcuterie product typical of Modena, so much so it has its own certification of quality) like it was cooked a hundred years ago, you would not even be able to digest it. But if you can project that cotechino today, enlighten it, keeping all its flavours… That’s a sublime cotechino then. We have to keep doing research, it certainly costs time and money but it’s necessary to project tradition into the future.
Handmade spaghetti a chitarra cooked in “grilled calamari water” finished with oyster puree, mackerel fat, gel of Sorrento (photo: Docsconz)
Researching, educating, it’s something you really take to heart. You are constantly involved in local projects that help the youngest ones to achieve their dreams of becoming Chef without forgetting their roots. Any new projects?
Yes, a brand new one: from next year the Istituto Spallanzani of Castelfranco Emilia (the agriculture school that was about to close and was saved by Bottura) will open two classrooms dedicated to cuisine. My dream came true: agricultural workers will support the chefs so they know how difficult it is to work the land, to feed the cows, to prepare Parmigiano Reggiano or Balsamic Vinegar. This is the future to me, everything starts from education. If you stop subsidising schools it means you don’t love your country. School is the future, young people are our future.
Cover photo by Paolo Terzi
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