3-Michelin-starred chef shares the inspiration behind his evolutionary Italian cooking
Massimo Bottura, world renowned chef and author of Never Trust a Skinny Italian Chef, used his book to tell what made him change his view on the Italian kitchen. It was a tale told by his friend and Italian art dealer, Emilio Mazzoli, that when you look at something from 10 kilometres away, that thing will come out in totally different result as you get closer. A very artistic portrait may become just a spot.
Modena, Italy born and raised, Chef Massimo Bottura, 52, owns and operates his 3-Michelin-starred restaurant Osteria Francescana in his hometown. Osteria Francescana uses desirable top grade ingredients such as real-time barrel-aging balsamic vinegar, parmigiano reggiano cheese and prosciutto di Modena cured meat to produce the finest meals.
It’s a long 6,800 kilometres between Modena and Toronto, and Bottura left his restaurant, vinegar, cheese and ham behind in Modena when he arrived at George Brown College (GBC) from March 4 to 6.
Upon Bottura’s arrival to the St. James campus, GBC’s centre for hospitality and culinary arts (CHCA) held an hour-long interview session. He spoke not of the innovation of Italian cuisine or how he creates his evolutionary traditional Italian cooking, but instead of inspiration.
“Never forget where you come from. I always say that my blood is balsamic vinegar and my muscle is made of parmigiano,” says Bottura, “Innovation is (looking) into your history from a critical point of view, not a nostalgic one. Once you find the critical point, you can make your innovation.”
Bottura conducted a cooking demo session of his Crunchy Lasagna for a lucky group of post-graduate CHCA students.
“What (do) we love in lasagna? We all love the burned crunchy part, right? When we were kids, we only ate that part in a lasagna. So, I thought that why not just make the crunchy lasagna? Only make the crunchy part,” says Bottura.
Bottura went on to emphasize how crucial it is to know the history of your craft.
“Don’t get involved when you don’t understand. I am very sick of all those blah, blah, blah, superficial things,” says Bottura. “Get deep in cultures. When you know the cultures well, you have the right to criticize.”
Bottura urged the young chefs in the room to take a different approach on travelling and how to learn along the way.
“Travel as a sponge. Get contaminated into different cultures, then you will grow. But never forget (to) travel and learn and get contaminated in a wise way, not in a wide way. If you get contaminated in a wise way, you will never forget what you learned. If you get contaminated in a wide way, then you will lose everything and forget your past,” he says.
Aside from his love of food, Bottura obsesses over contemporary art and music. As the owner of 20,000 music albums, Bottura expresses that listening to music after work is his greatest enjoyment.
Bottura also believes that art is not a gimmick.
“It depends how deep you approach to art. If you just wanted to watch the images of Picasso and put it in the plate, it doesn’t mean anything. You have to understand the meaning or the story behind the art. You have to know, to learn, to study and to live with that expression. And then you melt it into your cultures. Just like me, I love foods, arts and music, (so) I melted them together. That really helps to inspire me,” Bottura shared.
Perhaps it is not a loss that we cannot taste Chef Bottura’s dishes in Toronto. Perhaps we should use this as an excuse to fly 6,800 kilometres away to Modena and pay Osteria Francescana a visit for an authentic taste of not only the craft itself, but the experience.