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Massimo Bottura
by Benedict Baker

Osteria Francescana, Massimo Bottura’s 3-starred restaurant in Modeno, is regarded as one of the best in the world (named 5th at the World’s 50 Best Restaurant Awards). We spoke to him about inspiration, influence and the real future of food.

Your restaurant is regarded as one of the finest in the world. What makes the dining experience at Osteria Francescana so special?

Osteria Francescana is in the heart of the medieval city of Modena. We are at the crossroads of history and the future. Our restaurant is in a 200 year old osteria that has been transformed over the past 17 years into a mecca of contemporary art and culture. We strive for perfection in everything we do. Our greatest reward is having guests from all over the world visit is in Modena. 

At Osteria Francescana there are three tasting menus in addition to the a la carte menu. Each menu represents an essential aspect of Massimo Bottura’s cuisine – Terroir, Play and Experimentation. The Traditional tasting menu expresses the finest of Emilian terroir , the Classics tasting menu highlights the playful and ironic plates Massimo Bottura has come to be known for and our Sensations menu draws straight from the most recent experiments in the kitchen ensuring that every experience at Osteria Francescana is unique.

What else inspires you?

Inspiration comes from many things – thinking about the life of snails under the snow, or listening to a piece of music by Thelonius Monk. Inspiration comes from ingredients, from people, from memories and from living your life like a dream. The most important thing for me is to not get caught up in the everyday but to be as fresh as I can every time I walk into the kitchen.

I dream  -  daydream - a lot. I let my mind travel through my memories, my experiences and my eagerness to taste. Whenever I find myself in a new place, I eat local authentic food. That is how I understand a place, through my palate. When I was in China I learned the technique of making dumplings, in Sri lanka curry and in Thailand how to balance spices. All of these experiences are added to my cultural baggage. They become part of me and my cuisine.

So, to answer your question, what motivates and inspires me is the world around me – a juxtaposition of who I am and where I have come from. Living in the present but never forgetting all that came before you.

Which chefs do you currently admire?

The chefs in my kitchen – Davide, Yoji and Taka. We are a team working towards a common goal. I admire their dedication and their loyalty. We are very committed to what we are doing which is essential to achieve pure flavours and long lasting ideas.

What advice would you give to aspiring chefs and food professionals?

You have to believe with your whole heart that you can reach your goals, only then is there a chance of them coming true. I often tell young chefs to keep dreaming. Keeping your dreams alive is the secret to being a great chef. Never compromise.

I always suggest that young chefs read, travel and dig as deep as they can into their culture to understand who they are and where they come from. Then and only then can they discover their true motivations, passions, and their inspirations.

What part of the Italian cooking philosophy would you like to see adopted worldwide?

Buy the freshest, best ingredients you can. Know your farmer, your butcher, your cheese maker, and your fishmonger. When you have a relationship with the people who produce your food, it will always be better quality.

What are your plans for the future?

At Osteria Francescana we are meditating on the Classics. There is so much gathering going on out in the woods these days that I am heading back to the drawing board, back to the Greek philosophers, back to Dante and my history books. I have been very inspired by reading about the salt trade – how commerce and civilization developed through the exchange of products form North to South and West to East. Just thinking about the amazing amount of information that travelled with a salted cod, some capers, and a ham hock inspires ideas for new recipes.

What do you see in the future for food, both in Italy and worldwide?

My thoughts on the Future of Food are quite humble. They are not revolutionary. Tradition in evolution is my theme song. I often find that I must return or go back in order to move forward. Here are some of the most important themes to me.

Back to the Future - I think it is very important in times like these when we have so much information, ingredients, and techniques at our fingertips to make sure we know where we come from. Two steps back one step forward. Invest in understanding your own history, gastronomic and other, before seeking out the NEW.

Praise the artisan – Radical gratitude is due for our food artisans, farmers and herdsmen. They hold the keys to the future in their hands. They are today’s heroes and tomorrow’s rock stars.

Cross-pollination -The cross-pollination of ideas is something to anticipate with enthusiasm. Replace the word ‘fusion’ with ‘cross-pollination’ to encourage the evolution of traditions.

Storytelling – Food that tells stories, evokes memory, accounts for cultural differences, informs as well as nourishes, and lends to a greater sense of belonging is not only a necessity but a gift to future generations of chefs and diners.

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