renowned Italian chef Massimo Bottura combines
tradition and revolution in his award-winning culinary style. He
heads up Modena restaurant Osteria Francescana – officially the best dining
establishment in 2016 according to The World’s 50 Best Restaurants
– while you may also recognise him from Netflix’s popular ‘Chef’s
Table’ series, which featured his signature dishes such as ‘oops! I
dropped the lemon tart’ and ‘five ages of Parmigiano Reggiano’.
But in November, British diners didn’t need to travel to
Italy to sample Bottura’s legendary food. As part of Gelinaz, an international culinary collective, he
surprised diners with a ten-course menu at Hedone restaurant in
Dining with Bottura is a feast influenced by the full artistic
canon, from contemporary art right through to jazz melodies. And,
though Bottura travels often – he has recently cooked for Michelle
Obama, Lady Gaga and Robert de Niro – his hometown of Modena
remains his main source of inspiration. This food-centric area of
northern Italy defines both who he is as a person and as a chef.
Only when you understand this about him, can you appreciate his
obsession with destruction.
Yep, destruction. Bottura smashes ideals and expectations. “Once
you break something, your mind then tries to distinguish whether or
not you can rebuild it. Then you learn,” he says. “When you fully
understand something, then you can reinvent it.” Indeed, his
signature dessert ‘oops! I dropped the lemon tart!’ came about
after one of Bottura’s pastry chef, Kondo Takahiko, accidentally
dropped a dessert.
But what he is really talking about is something much deeper.
Something rooted in history, heritage and culture. With travel a
constant and ever-growing part of Bottura’s schedule, often
speaking to thousands of people at gastro-gatherings and food
fairs, he is working hard to engage and educate people about food
waste. Through education and creativity, he hopes to spread ideas
of how best to address food wastage and hunger.
This is no paltry challenge. By setting up his ‘Food for
Soul‘ organisation, Bottura has created Refettorio Ambrosiano,
a Milanese soup kitchen set up in a once-derelict theatre. Inviting
volunteer chefs from across the world, 15 tons of food waste was
sourced from 2015’s Expo Milano and turned into more than 10,000
Bottura also successfully took Food for Soul to Bologna, before
arriving in Rio de
Janeiro in time for the Olympic and Paralympic Games. The
Refettorio Gastromotiva opened in Rio’s Lapa neighbourhood, serving
around 108 free dinners each night for those in need. Through these
kitchens, Bottura hopes to put food waste and sustainability
front-of-mind for local authorities and governments.
“What is waste?” Bottura contemplates. “In Rio we turned banana
skins into ice cream. You have to open your mind, approach things
with a critical eye.” He speaks like a freight train, fast and
rumbling, gesticulating like a caricature Italian. “Rio is
challenging. The favelas (slums) are dangerous. Why? Is it because
life is difficult? People want work and money and food.”
Beyond the Games, Refettorio Gastromotiva has become a real
working space and an integral part of the Lapa neighbourhood. The
ambitious project has shaped into a precious part of the Rio
landscape, feeding the homeless and working poor as well as
training students and working with guest chefs, including Brazilian
chef Alex Atala.
Back in London, as he
approaches Chiswick Park en route to Hedone, Bottura snatches his
iPhone to photograph of a Turner-esque sunset. Pink and powder-blue
brushstrokes sweep across the horizon. “This is beauty,” he
exclaims. “With everything that is happening in the world, this
makes you smile.”
The Grand Gelinaz Shuffle is an international chef
exchange in which 40 chefs cook simultaneously across five
Food for Soul is a non-profit organisation founded by
Massimo Bottura to promote social awareness about food wastage and