The International Academy of Gastronomy, the prestigious French gastronomic institution based in Paris, bestowed the title of “the world’s best chef” around the neck of Massimo Bottura in February 2011. It is a title awarded to such internationally acclaimed chefs as Frenchman Alain Ducasse, Brit Gordon Ramsey and Spanish legend Ferran Adrià.
Renowned for his skillful and brilliant interpretations of modern cuisine, Massimo Bottura is revered in Italy as a gastronomic god - the weekly L’Espresso even granted Osteria Francescana, Bottura's restaurant in Modena, its highest food review ever: 19.75 out of 20. In April 2011, the notorious San Pellegrino chart of the 50 best restaurants in the world listed Osteria Francescana number four, the best ranking ever achieved by an Italian restaurant. Panoram Italia met Massimo Bottura in his restaurant Osteria Francescana in Modena (Emilia-Romagna) to talk with him about his passion and inspirations.
Panoram Italia: You are Italy’s most successful chef and now have been named the best in the world.What do you think of these tributes?
Massimo Bottura: They’re obviously nice to have and to receive, above all because it’s not only an honour for me but for my entire team of Osteria Francescana. Yet, we are not necessarily aiming to get titles. We work to give our clients an extraordinary dining experience. I often say that each meal should be like a Champions League final.
PI: A French institution honours an Italian chef. Who would have ever thought that would happen?
MB: (Bottura laughs, ed.) That’s a good point. Jokes aside, I actually have much to thank France for. The essentials of classic French cuisine were taught to me in part by the French master chef Georges Cogny, who lived in Piacenza near Modena for several years. I learned a lot from him. In addition, I spent about half a year with Alain Ducasse at the Hotel de Paris in Monaco in 1992 when he was busy revolutionizing French cuisine. It was an absolutely fantastic experience and a very important period of my life.
PI: But you also had another important mentor, if I’m not wrong …
MB: Yes, the great Adrià from elBulli restaurant in Spain. This was also a magnificent time. I was working with a group of young chefs who were being mentored by Adrià. Of course, we were all super-motivated. During that period I really learned to think independently. I tore apart all my notes and I threw away some of my old recipes. I definitely learned to be more intuitive and to follow my instincts.
PI: You’ve said that you find inspiration for your cooking in visual art, literature and music. Could you explain how the Arts stimulate you?
MB: I find modern art very important and inspiring to my work. As you can see, Osteria Francescana is full of modern art. I’m fascinated by Kandinski’s (Russian painter, 1866-1944, ed.) famous 1911 pyramid painting that reflects humanity’s spiritual life. We could say that it expresses who I am. In my own personal pyramid on the art of cooking, I put culinary creativity at the top. Just below are technical skills and then, at the bottom, the raw materials. These are the three elements that must go together to achieve the best possible result.
PI: You speak about literature, philosophy and music. Are you a chef-philosopher?
MB: No, I wouldn’t say that. What I talk about is passion; the passion that comes from reading, from listening to music. The passion that comes from pursing your interest to the fullest.
PI:What is the relationship between tradition and innovation?
MB: Well, tradition and innovation walk hand in hand. They need one another. Then, when you reach a certain level as a chef, I would say that a certain scientific knowledge regarding the reaction of some ingredients is required. This knowledge enables you to show the utmost respect for the raw materials and to use them in the best possible way.
PI: Now that you have the title of “the world’s best chef”, have all the dreams and ambitions of Massimo Bottura been realized?
MB: (Bottura breaks out in laughter, ed.) Oh no, absolutely not. The future is like a journey. Awards and recognition are, of course, nice to receive but they belong in the past. I live in the present. What happened yesterday is ‘almost’ forgotten.
PI: And what is your recipe for success?
MB: Aside from passion and hard work, it is definitely humility. Only through humility are you able to absorb the knowledge and the energy of the people around you. Being humble also means that you experience moments of doubt. You ask yourself whether you are doing the right thing. So you must fly using your head. Have dreams and ambitions. But with both feet on the ground.