We had the honour of interviewing famed Italian Chef Massimo Bottura, author of “Never Trust a Skinny Italian Chef,” owner of the three Michelin-starred Osteria Francescana, and Expo Milano 2015 Ambassador to learn about his passionate and philosophical approach to food.
Q: How do you define Italian food?
A: The Italian kitchen is first and foremost delicious and healthy. The soil, sun and particular microclimates of Italy produce some of the most amazing ingredients. There are the capers from Pantelleria, bergamot from Calabria, anchovies from Cetara, mozzarella from Puglia and from Campania, balsamic vinegar and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese from Modena, truffles from Piedmont, and wine from the entire peninsula. Italians love their food. They teach their children the importance of eating well for a happy life. Family gatherings revolve around meals and cooking together.
Q: How does being Italian influence your approach to food?
A: I always say my bones are made of Parmigiano-Reggiano and balsamic vinegar runs through my veins. I have great respect for our culinary traditions, but I also have respect for the outstanding Italian ingredients produced by heroic farmers, butchers and fishermen. At 50, I am still discovering new Italian flavours. A great part of my investigation is about throwing away my own assumptions about tradition, territory and ingredients.
Q: Tell us about your food philosophy.
A: I strongly believe that recipes can be social gestures, meaning that they can change one’s perspective. A chef has a great social responsibility not only to the guests at the table but to the community at large – the artisans, farmers, cheese makers – but also to the next generation of chefs. If one leaves a small window of poetry open then poetry can and will happen. Poetry leads us to magical thinking and doing.
Q: What is your favourite dish?
A: My favorite dish is the next one – the one we have yet to create.
Q: Why do you think Italian ingredients are so often imitated? Parmesan cheese versus Parmigiano-Reggiano, for instance?
A: There is really only one logical answer: they are delicious. [But] there is no flavour comparison. These products only sound similar, but when you taste them side-by-side it is obvious which ones are real and which ones are not.
Q: Tell us about your food project at Expo Milano 2015.
A: The Food for Soul project is very much concerned with bringing dignity back to the concept of the soup kitchen because everyone has the right, not only to food, to a community that they can call home.
Our experience at Osteria Francescana has taught us that a crust of cheese or a sardine, no matter how humble, can be put to work to bring people together. We will be collecting many kinds of salvaged wastage from different sources around the city and within Expo. We will be picking up food that is about to expire from supermarket overstock; we will be gathering fruits and vegetables from Milan’s central market where tons of food is abandoned at the end of the day; we will be recycling day-old bread and receiving meat and fish bones from restaurants and shops who normally discard them; we will be recovering many vegetable and fruit peelings and scraps to create salads, soups and stocks.
Q: What’s your desert island ingredient?
A: Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. There is no cheese like it in the world. Not only is it healthy and delicious, but it is has perfect umami.
Q: It’s your last night on earth: what’s for dinner?
A: Modenese traditional Tortellini… The ones my mother and grandmother made, folded by hand, cooked in broth and served piping hot. That is the flavour of my childhood and the flavours that keep me focused on reinventing the Emilian kitchen.