Oops! I Dropped the Lemon Tart. Five Ages of Parmigiano Reggiano. The Crunchy Part of the Lasagne. 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 Lasagne. Inspired by every Italian child’s habit of stealing the best bit of nonna’s hearty bake, this fine dining version uses layers of béchamel and meat ragú with triangle-shaped pasta sheets inspired by the jets of a Ferrari, the luxury sports car maker that shares the peaceful town of Modena with Osteria Francescana. 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 nostalgia, telling stories of Italian life and exploring ingredients from all over the country, particularly his own beloved Emilia Romagna region.
Complementing his thought-provoking cuisine is a restaurant-cum-art-gallery housing high-quality 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 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. Rather than using global recognition for his own ends, he has opened a series of soup kitchens to feed those most in need in cities including Rio de Janeiro and Milan. 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: