Our interview with three-Michelin-star restaurant chef and author Massimo Bottura.
Your love for contemporary art is well documented. Who's an artist you feel is under appreciated?
All artists are under appreciated. They are the visionaries of the world, and lead us towards the future. Is there a price for that?
How is running a restaurant different than running Casa Maria Luigia?
It's different because we're responsible for our guests for at least 24 hours if not more and yet the gestures and the energy is really just an extension of what we have been doing for the past 25 years. The most important thing about Casa Maria Luigia that Lara and I wanted to share is the feeling that guests have walked into our home It is a home away from home. And I hope our guests forget their sneakers in the cocktail room, fall asleep on the cozy sofas in the main hall or just sit in the kitchen with a glass of wine talking with each other the whole night. Whenever I travel, I crave that kind of freedom and I rarely find it. That is why we wanted to crate a unique space like no other.
But no doubt Casa Maria Luigia is an extension of everything we have learned over the years at Osteria Francescana. Running a restaurant made us conscious that we really want our guests to feel part of something. We want to share our world, our vision, our emotions and our passions with them. At Casa Maria Luigia, we took a step forward, to share an immersive experience from check in to check out.
Modena is famous for its automotive contributions. If you could only have one motorcycle and one car, which car and motorcycle would you choose?
Ducati motorcycle. They are made in Bologna and the best in the world. Every year I have a new one custom made for me. They are a pleasure to drive and even just look at! And for cars: Maserati. Right now I'm driving a convertible Maserati, electric blue. You can hear it coming from a mile away. Lara drives my old Maserati Levante, a slick all road vehicle. She treats it like a pick up truck hauling plants, dogs and you name it.
With Food for Soul, you've been working to eliminate food waste and help the less fortunate. What's something everyone could do in their own homes to help the cause?
Buy less food. Buy seasonal. And cook and eat it all. Empty your pantries before you go out to the supermarket. You will eat better, save money and fight food waste.
What's your favorite food to make for yourself for a quick snack right now?
I could live on pizza.
What's some of your favorite kitchen gear you like to use for your personal cooking?
It isn't really not about the gear at all. The most important thing is to bring your mind (your thinking brain) into the kitchen along with whatever suits you. Cool gear, sharp knives and tattoos only get you so far.
It's the end of a long day. What are you drinking?
Well, most of the time I am drinking a cold glass of sparkling water. I grew up on San Pellegrino and that's my drink. I rarely reach for alcohol but if I do, I love a Dalmore Scotch whiskey — King Alexander is my favorite.
What's one object that has the most personal significance to you?
My vinyl records. Each one comes with a story, a memory, and a specific moment in time. I love all of them but most of all, I love the collection as it tells the story of my life from adolescence to adulthood.
Is there another hobby or activity that gives you as much satisfaction as cooking?
Buying records is one but the other, and the more dangerous one, is searching for the next painting or sculpture. I always have me eye on a few and sometimes I am able to catch them but it is not easy. But just like records, you have to look where no one else is looking. That's the trick.
Do you think your children will follow in your and Lara's footsteps and have a career in the hospitality industry? Do you want them to?
Our son Charlie is already in the restaurant business. He is part of a group of young special needs adults making Tortellini and selling them in a special pasta shop called Tortellante. Charlie also has spent the summer working at Maria Luigia helping guests with their luggage and washing dishes in the evening. So he is already part of the Francesana family. Alexa, our oldest, who recently graduated from University in the USA, is also very interested in the restaurant business but from the marketing and communications side, not the hands on nitty gritty. She has been helping Lara with the opening of Casa Maria Luigia.
Has cooking changed for you after receiving accolades and worldwide attention?
Cooking has always been my passion. It will never change for me and it continually changes me. I have matured as a chef and a person inside the kitchen of Osteria Francescana. I would not be the same person if I hadn't lived so many experiences, good and bad, and created so many recipes, or built a team like we have today.
In the same thought, no matter how many accolades, cooking is about giving space to my creativity and concrete form to emotions and ideas. It's the way I express myself, and what keeps me pursuing more future in my future. Cooking is an act of love and to me it's the starting point of every project I dedicate myself in. Cooking is a gesture of caring, cooking is the first gesture of inclusion at our Refettorios to make vulnerable people feel seen and welcome. In the end I think that are not the accolades that changed my approach to cooking, but the experiences that cooking led me to that really changed my vision and method. The more I move forward, the more my actual position is giving me the opportunity to share transformation messages through my cooking and beyond. That's the type of change I wish for everyday.
When do you know when a dish is finished and there is nothing more you can do with it?
A dish is never really finished. I'm always open to the unexpected. I let my team surprise me and I'm always curious about their interpretation and different experiences and suggestions. For example, I'm thinking about the recipe of Autumn in New York, a dish that expresses my passion for Billie Holiday and my passion for New York. It is reinterpreted seasonally, but first came up as a dish inspired to a season and a place. But in the last few years, the dish has been reinterpreted, we work together to recreate the season as much as we do with the song. And now we have a new version each season.
You have a reputation for deconstructing and re-inventing menu items at your restaurants, where did that mindset begin?
I've been working on the idea of Tradition in Evolution since the opening Osteria Francescana. It has taken a lot of experiments, mistakes and surprising discoveries to find my own interpretation of the Italian kitchen along the way. I think that this idea was very conditioned by contemporary art and how nowadays artists look at the past breaking traditions to build their new, although coherent, path. Tradition in Evolution means looking at the past from a critical point of view not a nostalgic one. It means looking at traditional recipes from 10 kilometers away. We are constantly taking the best of the past and trying to bring it into the future.
How do you keep your team motivated when you achieved the best restaurant in the world?
I constantly see more future in my future. And this energy, this never-ending search for innovation is something I try to transmit to my team every day. One of the most valuable ingredients or tools in the kitchen is the mind. I always repeat to my team to never stop dreaming nor allow the daily routine to shut down creativity. Humility and hard working are the keys to keep being the best version of yourself, even once you've reached the top.
When you travel to a new city and experience a new culture, what are you hoping to absorb and take home with you?
I really enjoy travelling, it makes me feel pure and vibrating energy. When I walk around a new city I keep my mind open and let it wander. Inspiration can come literally from everywhere, and that's something I'm always in search for.
Photos: André Feriante / Uncrate