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Massimo Bottura: a 3 Michelin star craftsman

"Last year in May, I had the opportunity to meet a person that is not only the greatest chef in the world, but one of the most charismatic person I've ever met in my life. A man whose cuisine goes beyond single dishes and different cultures and everything tastes as love for ingredients, tradition, and evolution.

I have no words to describe my joy as finally yesterday Massimo Bottura and Osteria Francescana have been voted as the best restaurant in the world! A team of wonderful people and a great family!

I have no particular title to say it but Italy is proud of you. Thank you!"

Hungry Italian in Town

In the eyes of the world Chef Massimo Bottura is seen as an artist, whereas he finds himself to be an artisan and a craftsman. What is certain, Bottura is a true culinary rebel, with a majestic ability to create and transmit emotions. We take you on spot to his 3-star Michelin restaurant Osteria Francescana – a place where past, presence and future are compressed in a single bite, where art doesn't compromise the craftsmanship, where every corner is a source of inspiration, and where its people add a very special aroma to it all.

Growing up on toothsome gastronomic treasuries of Modena, a medieval city in Italy, where pasta radiates a brilliant yellow color from the lavish amount of egg yolks, where slow-simmering meat stews are sprinkled with the almighty king of cheese and effortlessly resound wealth, which together with the pillow-like tortellini build up sleeking roads for world’s fastest cars produced in this region, in 1986 a lawyer to be Massimo Bottura bought a roadside trattoria nearby Modena and decided to thoroughly devote himself to his childhood passion.

While Bottura had already been trembling the grounds across Modena, in 1993 the godfather of French cuisine Alain Ducasse decided to make a quick turn to the trattoria and shortly after invite Bottura to work at his 3-star Michelin restaurant - Hotel de Paris, in Monte Carlo. The in-depth culinary experience he obtained while working extra hours at Ducasse’s kitchen was a breaking point for Bottura, leading him to open a new restaurant named Osteria Francescana, located in the historic centre of Modena.

Today, Osteria Francescana is a 3-star Michelin restaurant, rated as the best one in Italy, and for the second consecutive year ranked third in San Pellegrino’s list of world’s 50 best restaurants. In addition, Bottura has been successfully running two other restaurants, one in Modena named Franceschetta 58, and the recently opened one in Istanbul called Ristorante Italia di Massimo Bottura.

Having threaded his 1st Michelin star in 2002, which was crowned by the 3rd one in 2012, and obtained other prestigious recognitions in the meantime, Massimo Bottura has never stopped deepening his horizons. Blending tradition with innovation, while managing to capture the essence of classic Italian dishes in modern expressions, Bottura has kept on experimenting with textures and shapes, while provoking an eruption of emotions and creating a whole entire universe in a bite!

Keen to share his life experience and encourage others to follow their dreams, in 2014 Chef Bottura published the book and collection of recipes named “Never Trust a Skinny Italian Chef”, compressing 20 years of experience as a daring innovator, trailblazing Chef and an emotional storyteller, whose reflections go from the soil, air and waters of Italy, all the way to contemporary art and music creations he draws the inspiration from.

Perhaps even the complexity of Parmigiano Reggiano, which he metaphorically says has been the one to build up his muscles, or the playfulness of Balsamic vinegar that runs through his veins, have made him create his very own harmonic contradiction – tradition in evolution, a truly emotional and cognitive culinary journey that whoever comes to Osteria Francescana or browses through the pages of Bottura’s latest book has an opportunity to embark on!

Being one of the world’s leading culinary figures, what is Massimo Bottura’s secret ingredient of success?

I don’t believe there is a universal recipe of success. Still, I believe in an on-going evolution. Staying curious and open-minded, always looking ahead for new possibilities, sourcing inspiration from culture and art, believing in imperfection and creating ”perfection in an imperfect way” as a medium to transfer emotions, retrospecting to tradition from a critical viewpoint, is what you might call my ingredient of success.

After so many international recognitions, do you consider yourself a culinary artist?

No, on contrary. I am a craftsman. An artisan not an artist. Artists are free to express and create whatever they believe in, whereas as an artisan-Chef I am obliged to make good food. My goal is not to educate peoples’ minds, but to educate their palates and let them experience emotions. When I reflect on my dishes and success they have brought along, they have all been made by hands of an emotional craftsman. I owe my first Michelin star to my three most important masters – my grandmother, Alain Ducasse and Ferran Adria, who inspired me to create “Compression of Pasta and Beans”, a 3-layered parfait, where by using different flavours and techniques I compressed my life in. Furthermore, the dish that was announced as the Italian dish of the century “Five Ages of Parmigiano Reggiano”, done in 5 different textures from a single ingredient, came out as a result of honouring the complexity of Parmesan cheese. Still, all my dishes are based on good food, craftsmanship, tradition and emotions. Consequently, art becomes a subjective perception.

It seems you have been determined from the start to create what you have believed in…

I must correct you - I haven’t been determined but rather “obsessed” with what I believe has been the right thing to do. If you are not obsessed about your dream you will never be able to make it a reality. The amount of time until you realize it may vary, the way you will carry it out may evolve over time, but whatever dream you have, I am convinced you are able to actualise it. I see challenges as an incentive to find a better solution and turn them into a reality. Still, a precondition to make your dreams and ideas come true is to have a good knowledge of who you are.

What are the elements of a good plate?

Contemporary cooking assumes two things on a plate – good and healthy food. Being one of great passions of my family, I have been exposed to good food from the early age. It has not only enriched my palate and thought me to recognise quality ingredients, it has as well made me very sensitive to different flavours and affected me to observe food through feelings.

Having gone through such a palatable evolution, and being flushed over with emotions every time my grandmother or mother would be making fresh pasta or cooking lasagna, this forever ingrained experience inspired me to create “The Spaghetti is dreaming of becoming a Lasagna”. Still, not any kind of lasagna, but the crunchy part! Searching for a way to recall mesmerising childhood memories, we decomposed this typical dish and singled out the best part of it – the top crispy layer. We then created a metamorphoses of texture, while keeping the magnificently soaking and sentimental taste of ragu.

Speaking about evoking and perceiving emotions, I will always remember a guest from Poland who came for lunch at Osteria Francescana. She ordered our very own soufflé “Potato that wants to be a Truffle”, a flamboyant dessert that brought her back to her childhood memories and the image of her grandmother making a sweet potato. It made her start crying and become thrilled to bits.

What makes the Slow Food successfully withstand today’s fast-paced lifestyle?

Whatever the case is, you always need a contradiction to make a friction and cause a change. Look at Modena, the city of fast cars and slow food, coupled in a perfect marriage for ages. Just think about Balsamic vinegar for instance – such a complex ingredient that needs more than 25 years to be transformed into a true gastronomic masterpiece, and eventually consumed in a quick bite, but with a long-lasting emotion. There is the same contradiction about Slow Food. It represents a “slowly thought – quickly done” experience and a fast-track emotional journey, which resists all times and follows no matter what kind of lifestyle.

How was it like to experience last year’s Gourmet Abu Dhabi event, when you had an opportunity to set up a menu dedicated to one of Italy’s most famous opera singers, Luciano Pavarotti, and present it to the UAE audience?

Having had a chance to create a menu honouring such a great Maestro, who was born and raised in Modena and was a very passionate “ambassador” of local ingredients, was a true challenge and responsibility. We used the traditional ingredients from Modena, after which we transformed them into contemporary forms and brought them to mind of the UAE’s audience. Nevertheless, each time I travel I tend to take a tour around markets, have a bite of different street food delicacies and experience an in-rooted cultural journey.

Moving around the UAE region, it continues to inspire me how skilfully and well-balanced you use the typical spices, which go so profoundly in the palate and are so delicately sublimed in various dishes. As a Chef, knowing your own culture is one of the most important elements to succeed with your dream and become able to transfer emotions. I can only encourage the UAE Chefs to keep up this way, cherishing tradition, observing it with a well-minded criticism, while continuously exploring ahead!

A very special thanks to Chef Bottura, Osteria Francescana and Spoon PR team.

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