Massimo Bottura, Osteria Francescana: "I will use this spotlight to make visible the invisible"

Giulia Sgarbi

19/06/2018

Header: Massimo Bottura and Lara Gilmore at the Palacio Euskalduna in Bilbao, Spain

As Massimo Bottura's restaurant Osteria Francescana in Modena, Italy, earns back the title of The World's Best Restaurant 2018, having topped the list for the first time in 2016, the Italian chef talks about creating community, the revolution in the food world and dreams coming true.

Holding the double awards of The World's Best Restaurant 2018, sponsored by S.Pellegrino and Acqua Panna, and The Best Restaurant in Europe 2018, the first thing that Massimo Bottura did was to move the spotlight from himself to something he cares about even more than himself: the community. "This is not about me, it is about all of us," he said. "I feel the same way that the lady who entered my refettorio (soup kitchen) felt when she said: 'In this place I feel community. Now I can die happy'."

Thanking his team at Osteria Francescana in Modena and his brigades at the various refettorios around the world, Bottura said: "This is for you, because all together we are creating a community and this community can truly create a revolution in the food world and beyond. We have to feed the world, we have to fight waste. I want to use this spotlight to make visible the invisible."

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Massimo Bottura and Lara Gilmore receive their award on stage at The World's 50 Best Restaurants 2018

Reflecting on the change that has taken place in the last two years, Bottura was certain that Osteria Francescana had evolved for the better. "We are better now than in 2016, we are wiser. The team is stronger and we have so many projects now. We could be just dreaming, but instead we want to take practical steps towards making dreams come true."

A model of creativity for many in the gastronomic industry, Bottura is a master of reinvention, as proved in his continued commitment to evolving and improving Osteria Francescana, along with his wife Lara Gilmore. He explains that his unconventional outlook on life started when he was still young: "I grew up under my grandmother's kitchen table, and from there I started looking at the world from the perspective of a child, as the world looked big and different and upside down," said Bottura. "At Osteria Francescana we still look at the world from the perspective of a child who wants to play."

Inspired in his culinary output by artists, musicians and farmers alike, Bottura blames his success on his deep involvement with culture and art. "Culture is our motivational force. Culture brings knowledge, knowledge opens consciousness and that brings a sense of responsibility," said the chef, who also leads a non-profit, Food for Soul, dedicated to the double goal of fighting food waste and helping the neediest in the community.

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Inside Osteria Francescana

Osteria Francescana is located in the ancient town of Modena in Emilia-Romagna, a region the chef calls 'the food valley of Italy', as it is the home of world-famous products such as Aceto Balsamico di Modena and Parmigiano Reggiano. Bottura is obsessed with high-quality produce, but his creative process doesn't stop here. "I can pick the best caper from Pantelleria, or the lemon from Sorrento that doesn't need any sugar because it is so naturally sweet that it's perfect, or the best Parmigiano Reggiano, but that is only the first step," he says.

"Then, you have to break it. You have to break things to guarantee a future, to create new traditions and to produce something that is filtered by the contemporary mind." The chef's famous dish Oops, I dropped the lemon tart is perhaps the greatest example of this: it was originally created when one of the restaurant staff accidentally let go of a dessert plate. Bottura saw in this not a mistake but an opportunity, and since then all the lemon cakes at Osteria Francescana have been 'dropped'.

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Oops, I dropped the lemon tart (image: Paolo Terzi)

Even though he says that chefs are not artists but artisans, art is central in the chef's vision of the dining experience. "As chefs, we are full of obligations: paying the bills, being in different parts of the world, and being in the restaurant as much as we can. But in the end, the secret is just this: keep a little space open for poetry in which you can jump and you can imagine a broken lemon tart," he said. 

The Italian cook says that he also finds endless inspiration in his own food memories, from which he derives a desire to take diners with him on a trip through the emotions that marked him as child. "If I go down deep into my memories, I remember fighting with my brothers for the crunchy part of the lasagna. At Osteria Francescana, I'm serving that kind of memory. So diners eat emotions, not food, because the rest of the lasagna is for the adults, but the crunchy part is for the kids. So you experience the idea of the kid stealing the best bit of the dish," he said.

As he reaches the top spot of The World's 50 Best Restaurants 2018 list once again thanks to his unrelenting passion and commitment to reinvention, Bottura has only one piece of advice for aspiring cooks: "Get deep into your interests. Whatever they are, go deep into them. One day that interest is going to be transformed into passion, and through passion you can transmit emotion."

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Massimo Bottura, Osteria Francescana: I will use this spotlight to make visible the invisible
  • Giulia Sgarbi