You may know him from the popular Netflix series ‘Chef’s table’. Alternatively, for his, ‘Oops! I dropped a lemon tart recipe’ and as the Ambassador for the United Nations Environment Programme. Fifty-nine-year-old Massimo Bottura is more than just a Michelin starred chef. While an inspiration for several budding chefs, he is currently on a path to ensure that the world has a greener, tastier and more accessible future.
How? Chef Bottura sat down with the Food team at Gulf News and described the journey so far.
A flavoursome past
From the land of fast cars, came slow food. Italy, known for its delicate cuisine is home to Bottura, who credits his passion for food to the exposure from a young age. After quitting a career in law, Bottura’s motivation came from his mother, who urged him to follow his dreams. However, his father didn’t share the view. Bottura was in his mid-twenties.
Despite the opposition, Bottura stuck to his dream of being a chef. He proved his father wrong by travelling the world, discovering several cooking styles and techniques, and by challenging himself to be a better chef.
Eventually he became the chef patron of Osteria Francescana, a three-Michelin-star restaurant in Modena, Italy.
“I grew up, quite literally, under the kitchen table. I always believed that the heart of a home lies in the kitchen and growing up, I was always curious. It is the very same curiosity that I carry with me every day that pushes me to be a better chef. I remember the times I used to spend with my mum in the kitchen… we would make tortellini pasta from scratch and sometimes sneak a few bites in. It’s all these memories that helped me power through the tough times of choosing a career path.
“For me good cooking takes time, and I was always hungry to learn something new… something different – whether it was food, art or even automobiles. Now when I look at my past, I see things much clearer than before and that’s always been my inspiration.”
An evolving present
When asked how he’s impacted Italian cuisine over the years, Bottura said: “There are four things that summarise the change – culture, knowledge, consciousness and sense of responsibility. It’s simple… I took my culture, used it to my knowledge and used that to create a menu that evokes a sense of responsibility. In all of this, I learnt new cooking styles and techniques, which I carry on in my food.
“Initially, making food was to present and serve a concept. However, for me food is art, food is poetry, food brings the world together. So now, it’s more of retaining the roots while touching hearts and palates all over the world. That’s the evolution for me – I don’t change the flavour, but I make sure my food touches these four aspects because the more aware we become of food, the more interested we will be in making it consciously, without wasting a morsel. I want to break the past and rebuild it by involving it in something more contemporary… like art.”
The soul of good food lies in its ingredients, said Bottura. “To be in your element of the culinary world, you must pick the right ingredients. You have to be in touch with farmers, fishermen, cheese artisans, everyone who works in food from scratch – there is nothing more beautiful than that. It’s not so difficult once you get into the habit, you have to identify your ingredients and then bring them together. I call it my theatre of flavour – where each ingredient has a role to play in conveying my story. Nobody wants to sit in a restaurant or visit a city just because it looks good… everyone wants to experience each ingredient – whether a vegetable, spice or herb – for themselves. And that’s where true evolution lies.”
True that! Italian cuisine isn’t just about cheese and pasta; it’s about finding the ingredients that contribute to making a sensory dish.
A zero waste future
It was in 2015 when Bottura decided to take the next step during the 2015 World Expo in Milan, Italy. During this time, the chef had transformed the concept of a refectory, where monks used to gather for communal meals and transform the area into a dining hall. This provided a haven for those who couldn’t afford at least one meal a day.
The dining hall, run by chef Bottura and his wife Laura Gilmore, served a three-course meal that used leftover ingredients and produce that would have gone to waste if not used that day. This was how the first Reffetorio (which means ‘to remake and restore’) came into play. As of today, Bottura manages 13 Reffetorios, with room for more outlets across the world over.
“Of course it was challenging,” he said. “The pandemic affected us but we came back stronger than ever because at the end of the day each on the team – who is my family – have worked their heart out for the greater good. We are stronger than ever now, and nothing can stop or scare us anymore.”
All of this work launched a project called Food for Soul, which aims to tackle global hunger and cut food waste. That is what the future for world-famous chef Massimo Bottura holds.
Do you have a topic you would like us to cover? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org