Massimo has had hugely popular appearances on the Netflix series ‘Chef’s Table‘ and ‘Theater of Life‘ about a soup kitchen he opened where 60 of the world’s best chefs joined him to cook for the homeless of Milan using food waste.
In this exclusive interview Massimo talks to Love Italian Life about the present and future of contemporary Italian restaurants, the daily inspirations behind his passion for Italian food and how society can tackle the issue of food waste.
Love Italian Life:What are the ingredients that make an Italian restaurant truly contemporary in the Italy of today?
Massimo Bottura:The main ingredient that can’t be missed is an idea. I will keep on saying it forever that it’s not just about the quality of the ingredients, but the quality of ideas. It doesn’t mean a thing to buy the best Piennolo tomatoes if you don’t know how to handle it. It would be just wasted and thrown away!
That of the kitchen is a manual labor that could be boring, repetitive and meaningless, if the chef doesn’t act like a thinking man. Cooking is a matter of mindfulness, being conscious of the potential power of a scented extra-virgin olive oil, a particular technique, a fleeting intuition that might run away, blend them all together and make them happen on a plate into edible bites of ideas.
Love Italian Life: You said in a recent New York Times interview that “The chef of the future has a very important sense of responsibility…the contemporary chef is much more than the sum of his recipes.” What do you mean by that?
Massimo Bottura: Chef’s today are influencers and therefore they have a responsibility to help their communities grow and become more sustainable. A part of this growth is the fight against food waste and against hunger.
“Cucina Povera will be back in vogue”.
Love Italian Life:What’s the heart, soul and inspiration behind your dishes?
Massimo Bottura:I love music, art, and food. I want to share all of those things with the people around me. That is what we try to do with our restaurant. Open our world and invite guests in to see things from another point of view. I take inspiration from everything I see and experience around me. I make obvious and odd connections, sometimes abstract and other times concrete. I love metaphors and look for them constantly. I love narrative as well and try to construct it inside my head before I put it on a plate.
I am searching for truths that often cannot be proved or explained. They are flavour truths, combinations that work, textures that envelope and intricate textures that stimulate the palate, the emotions and the mind. We are not feeding empty bellies in Osteria Francescana but feeding the eager mind.
The biggest challenge after years of working in the kitchen is to be able to keep a small window open for poetry… poetry of the everyday. A lemon tart drops and you realize that THAT is the next recipe. You are listening to a Thelonious Monk albumn and catch a flash in the dark and create a dish that is black on black and expresses the darkness in your soul. You are thinking about your childhood and remember eating fish on the Adriatic. That memory leads to a recipe such as Mediterranean Sole in which you combine 3 classic cooking techniques into 1 recipe.
These are the kind of things that inspire me. Giving value to everyday life, to passing thoughts, and emotions, is a way of capturing the spirit.
“We are not feeding empty bellies in Osteria Francescana but feeding the eager mind”.
Love Italian Life:For most of your life you have always cooked for other people, but can you tell our community what the real Massimo Bottura loves to eat?
Massimo Bottura:Raw tortellini, of course. When I was a kid I would hide under the kitchen table while my grandmother folded tortellini. As the flour fell around me, I would steal the tortellini she was making for us when she wasn’t looking. I would pop them into my mouth raw and chew for a very long time until all the flavour was drawn out. If I had to eat only one food for the rest of my life, it would be traditional Modenese tortellini.
Love Italian Life:In your expert opinion, what will the future of Italian cuisine look like?
Massimo Bottura: Cucina Povera will be back in vogue. Recipes from our grandmothers and old cooking techniques will help us look at our pantry with different eyes and make every ingredient resourceful from nose to tail.
Love Italian Life:How can people use your ‘Bread is Gold’ book to positively impact food wastage and hunger?
Massimo Bottura:Bread is Gold is a metaphor for giving value to the simplest things in life that we often overlook. Such as the milk soup recipe I and many other Italian kids grew up with, or the endless recipes that use day-old bread created by the chefs at Refettorio Ambrosiano, and included in the cookbook. Bread is Gold is a way at looking at the world, looking at your pantry and finding inner beauty in the humblest ingredient.