Massimo Bottura: Food Rebel

Osteria Francescana's Chef-Artiste Defies Tradition with Edible Sculptures

Massimo Bottura's deconstructed dishes might just as easily appear in a gallery as at his two-Michelin-starred Osteria Francescana in the town of Modena. Spotlighting the flavors of his native Italian province Emilia Romagna (Parmigiano Reggiano, Grana Padano, Prosciutto di Parma and Sangiovese di Romagna), he takes cues from avant-garde visionaries for his maverick approach to gastronomy, showcased today in photographs by Erik Wåhlström for NOWNESS. Bottura's “Edible Social Sculpture,” a construct of raw venison strips, basil seeds, dehydrated polenta and chlorophyll essence, is a direct homage to Joseph Beuys, who in the 60s coined the term “social sculpture” to express how creativity can transform society. Having trained with culinary greats including Lidia Cristoni, Georges Cogny, Alain Ducasse and Ferran Adrià, last month Bottura showed up any skeptical food purists when he was awarded the 2011 Gran Prix de l’Art de la Cuisine by the International Academy of Gastronomy in Paris. Here he shares insights with Luciana Bianchi on balsamic vinegar and a potato's message of hope.

Your culinary approach is unorthodox. Is it difficult to be an avant-garde chef in Italy?
Tradition plays a strong role in Italian cuisine, but I believe that we cannot stop change. My cuisine reflects my free spirit, my love for my territory, but beyond that my search for evolution––in techniques, in ideas, and in flavors.

Your family owns a rare artisan production of balsamic vinegar [unique to the towns of Modena and Reggio Emilia]. What does that mean to you?
To have your own barrows of [balsamic vinegar] is one of the greatest things that an Emiliano can possess. It is a piece of the territory itself, with all its stories and precious moments turned into something unique. It is, for us, like jewelry in liquid form. We don’t sell it, only using it for very special occasions, sharing it with family and close friends.

Talk us through the idea behind the dish you call “The potato who wants to be a truffle.”
This dish is a message of hope; the dream of a humble potato to become a rare and desirable ingredient like a truffle. If a potato can dream of becoming a truffle, then all our dreams of becoming anything we want to be can be possible, too.  

Is the rise of the celebrity chef proof that the culinary path is a lucrative one?
Anyone who embraces avant-garde cuisine does it only for love. A restaurant like mine is not a lucrative business. If I wished to make money, I would open a pizzeria! I give a soul to my dishes, and I can only do that if I am deeply in love with my work.

To see the recipe for "The potato who wants to be a truffle", visit our Facebook page here.
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