The ingredients that make up Massimo Bottura # 5
We break The 50 Best Restaurants #1 chef down into his constituent parts. How fellow chefs influence his cookery
The more you read about contemporary gastronomy, the more inclined you are to subscribe to the lone genius theory of creativity. Surely the incredible achievements of Ferran Adrià, René Redzepi, Andoni Luis Aduriz, and co. are theirs and theirs alone? So too, the Italian chef Massimo Bottura with his culinary skills. His reinvention of Italian cuisine all his own work, no?
Then again, a single visit to well-run kitchen demonstrates just how collaborative the production of great food is. Indeed, Bottura’s sets out the debt of influence he owes to fellow chefs in our book, Never Trust a Skinny Italian Chef.
In some cases, local talents have simply awakened Bottura’s appreciation for his own region. He recalls how the farmhouse cook, Lidia Cristoni, assisted him when he set up his first restaurant, Trattoria del Campazzo, back in the eighties.
“Lidia rescued me when I was one month into my reckless journey as cook and restaurateur,” he writes. “She lived just across an alfalfa field from the trattoria. I could smell the perfume of the oranges, cloves and pork coming from her backyard. Her husband, Novello, was always busy in the shed grinding pork for salami while pig heads bubbled in a vat behind the barn.”
In other cases, the knowledge gained has been more technical, and harder won. “I spent the summer of 2000 at elBulli,” Bottura explains, recalling his time at Adria’s famous restaurant. “It wasn’t a vacation: I collected sea water from the bay and carried two buckets at a time up the beach. I made microscopic couscous from cauliflower heads. My feet ached, my hands were swollen and most of the time my head was spinning from everything that happened around me. When I returned to Modena the general wisecrack was, ‘What are you going to do now, Bottura, make a mortadella foam?’” It was a joke that the chef took seriously in his own creation, Memory of a Mortadella Sandwich.
Always willing to learn from others, Bottura has also picked up different concepts from established chefs. “After setting up my first restaurant, Trattoria del Campazzo,” he writes, “I left for Monte Carlo to study with Alain Ducasse for a year at the Hôtel de Paris. The year was 1994, and terroir was the word. When I returned to Modena, I saw Emilian ingredients quite differently.” This renewed sense of environment and produce informed his dish, Five Ages of Parmigiano Reggiano.
In other instances, he’s simply taken delight in another chef’s brilliance. “I apprenticed with chef George Cogny every Monday over a period of three years,” Botttura explains. “I was young and eager to learn. Baking brioche, making terrines and stuffing dried morels was like Disney World to me.” Yet in this case, the admiration was mutual.
“I knew Georges Cogny had taken a liking to me when he showed me how to make his recipe for Amboise of Foie Gras,” Bottura explains. “The year was 1986 and I had opened Trattoria del Campazzo six months earlier. My kitchen experience was very limited. Little did I know that years later I would serve a terrine of foie gras in the shape of an ice-cream bar without silverware.” Foie gras on a stick? What a typically Botturian innovation. We’re sure they’re plenty of chefs drawing on his influence these days.
For further insight into the 'ingredients' that make up Massimo Bottura, go here. For a richer understanding of his life and work, including recipes for the dishes mentioned above, buy a copy of Never Trust a Skinny Italian Chef here.