Oops! I Dropped the Lemon Tart. Five Ages of Parmigiano Reggiano. The Crunchy Part of the Lasagna. What do these three dishes have in common? The answer is a story, for each is the creation of Massimo Bottura, the chef who turned storytelling into an edible art form at his restaurant Osteria Francescana.
Take, for example, The Crunchy Part of the Lasagna. Inspired by every Italian child’s habit of stealing the best bit of nonna’s Sunday meal, this fine dining version is composed of a sheet of crunchy, tri-colour pasta balanced on a hand-chopped meat ragù and airy béchamel, arranged in a composition that makes it look like it is about to take flight. Each dish has a story attached, unravelling over the course of several bites or intended to trigger a specific feeling, moment or memory. For Bottura, it’s all about exploring territory and traditions, telling stories of Italian life through the concentration of absolute flavours, as the chef defines it: "Tradition seen from 10 kilometres away".
Complementing his thought-provoking cuisine is a restaurant-cum-art-gallery housing contemporary artwork, another passion of Bottura and his American wife, Lara Gilmore. Then there’s the seamless service in a series of cosy rooms and the unparalleled warmth of Italian hospitality. This winning combination led Osteria Francescana to the No.1 spot in The World’s 50 Best Restaurants in 2016 and 2018, but it could have turned out very differently. In the years after opening in 1995, the restaurant almost closed as conservative locals were resistant to Bottura’s tradition-busting approach to the Italian kitchen. Thankfully, he persevered.
Now Bottura is hailed, both in Italy and around the world, as the visionary who dared to rethink a mother cuisine so cherished and steeped in history. The chef used his global recognition to fund Food for Soul, a non-profit organisation that opened a series of community kitchens around the world, from Milan to Rio de Janeiro, Modena to London, Bologna, Paris and Naples, promoting social inclusion and supporting people in need through the power of a shared meal.
In 2019, Bottura added to his portfolio Casa Maria Luigia, a 12-room guest house nestled in the countryside in Emilia-Romagna, where the Italian chef and Gilmore share their passion for art, music and food in a new form, including a special dining experience – Francescana at Maria Luigia – where guests have the chance to try a special nine-course tasting menu. But it is Osteria Francescana that will always remain as the heart of Bottura’s world – a place to eat emotions, to feel enveloped by warm hospitality and to experience Italy at its finest.
Watch the video interview with Bottura: