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Narratives  a gastronomic anthology

Massimo Bottura

Massimo Bottura's Toronto and George Brown College visit was due in part to John Higgins' persuasion (Toronto)

She said, ‘the kitchen is like a family.’ We have a rule to eat together before service, after lunch and before dinner. And now at Osteria Francescana, we all eat together at the same time: waiting staff, service, chefs, the office… one whole team. It’s not that the dishwasher is different from the chef. Absolutely not. It’s not like that, because if the dishwasher fails, the whole restaurant fails. So we have to be together, eat together, breathe together.

- Massimo Bottura, renowned chef-owner of three Michelin-starred Osteria Francescana in Modena, and arguably Italy’s best chef speaking about the family meal. Winning the White Guide Global Gastronomy Award a couple years back, essentially the Nobel Prize of food and gastronomy, solidifies that title somewhat. His restaurant has also held rank as third on San Pellegrino's World's 50 Best restaurant list for the past two years, which just celebrated its 20th year anniversary.

Bottura: full time chef/part time photography instructor

The is also the first in an original series on Narratives with some fun evidence that shows that, yes, even three Micheln-starred chefs take pictures (of their food). This will be more obvious in subsequent posts.

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Gallery: Sotto Una Buona Stella (Under a Lucky Star) collaborative dinner with Rob Gentile. The inaugural dinner feauring Massimo Bottura (March 2015). Fully captioned, with descriptions of each course served.

Published: March 2015

Fool Magazine's whimsical Fellini-Inspired Portrait of Massimo Bottura written by the excellent Lisa Abend and photographed by the incredible Per-Anders Jörgensen (this synopsis on Eater. The original is in the print publication which I encourage you to pick up/support. It's romantic and stunning.)

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As one of the world’s most influential chefs, Massimo Bottura is known for his ability to balance innovation with Italian culinary tradition. His cooking is a modern interpretation of the culinary heritage of the Emilian kitchen, and he draws inspiration from contemporary art to compose such stunning main courses “psychedllic spin painted veal, not flame grilled.” (More about this dish can be found in the annotated piece for TorontoLife linked above). In Never Trust A Skinny Italian Chef, Bottura explores the evolution of his craft over the years - and the interesting stories accompanying them. (Bonus: what isn't explained is the very basic maroon bound cover with gold embossed lettering, which Bottura reveals to a packed lecture hall at George Brown College, was inspired by the Gideon Bible he found in a Miami hotel room drawer some time back. "It's like a univerity textbook... or a Holy Bible." Not a joke.)

The crew from Buca, Buca Yorkville (host venue) and Osteria Francescana

For Toronto food lovers and those who are familiar with Bottura, early March was a special time. For three days Bottura was heavily involved in George Brown’s Culinary Cities of the World educational series, capping his visit with a fundraising dinner prepared with Rob Gentile and his team at Buca Yorkville. The later, Sotto Una Buona Stella (Under a Lucky Star), is a joint venture by George Brown, Buca restaurant and the Consul General of Italy, is aimed at showcasing Italy’s rich culinary heritage. Over the next two years, six of Italy’s Michelin-starred chefs will be brought in to George Brown as an extension to the decade-long program between the school and ALMA (La Scuola Internazionale di Cucina Italiana, near Parma, Italy), which has sent over 300 young Canadian chefs to train in Italy. Besides aspiring to promote authentic Italian ingredients, all monies raised will benefit the school’s Centre for Hospitality and Culinary Arts Scholarship Fund.

Sotto Una Buona Stella's (Under a lucky star) inaugural menu

I had the pleasure of being a part of the inaugural experience a few weeks back. Besides extending their beautiful Yorkville space for the event, host chef Gentile and his team prepared a six-course meal that tried to amalgamate the philosophies of Buca, and what they do with Italian food in Canada, while adhering to Bottura’s Tradition in Evolution approach of cooking. For their plates, the team poured over Bottura’s book, while keeping with their quality Canadian-sourced ingredients, to created whimsical new plates such as “Life Cycle of a Trout” (more on that in a future post on Kolapore Springs).

Chef Bottura and his team also brought a number of stunners to the table, including his gold medal winning balsamic vinegar tradizionale and a wheel of 3-year old Parmigiano Reggiano vacche rossa which was so incredible, it left myself, author Mark Schatzker and journalist Jacob Richler lapping the black gold from our fingertips (and perhaps the chef’s counter. There is no shame for what one will do for delicious food amongst peers).

Bottura's address to the crowd gathered that night:

“I come from Modena, the food valley, the place we’re known for ‘slow food, but fast cars’* – we think very slowly but react very quickly. What I did, I brought with me a big wheel of cheese that’s very special (from the red cows of Reggiana) and the balsamic vinegar tradizionale that won the gold medal last June as the best vinegar in Modena. It’s a thank you for having me here. The main course is ‘beautiful psychedelic, not flame grilled.’ Actually it’s not veal, it’s beef, compressed into milk and not grilled but cooked sous vide and wrapped with aromatic ashes and a little bit of smoke. You’re going to see meat that looks totally raw, but is cooked so slowly at low temperature that it melts in the mouth. The side dishes is inspired by one of passions – that is contemporary art – and one of my favourite artists, and that is Damien Hirst and he does spin painting. So it’s transformed of side dishes to edible colour, so it’s going to be salad, root, you’re going to have roasted potato… inspired by it.

"I just want to say thank you for tonight, to the ambassador because for us Italians we’re not used to having authority… and for him to be here and fly back tonight, I just want you to applause the ambassador. Also to the George Brown school, since we flew from Italy, they hug us with such a warm hug and make us feel at home and we feel really well. Especially Jessica, she’s from Montreal but she’s my chef de partis. She’s the first female who’s ever been chef de partis and she’s a Canadian. Last, Rob [Gentile], thank you very much for everything. You did a great job in how you set up the dinner, in the design...The thing that I’ll remember, and I will take and bring with me is the warmness and the way these guys are treated. Since we’ve landed, it’s been amazing. The feeling is very important. Thank you very much.”

More on that dinner, including detailed accounts of each course and their inspirations can be found in this photo gallery and accompanying captions.

While I’ve yet to make a pilgrimage to Osteria Francescana, I do hold a special place in my heart for the region (Runate, is most dear to me). But with all the tempting treasures Bottura teased and tempted us with during his visit, I can't wait to head back to stuff my mind and belly full of delicious new memories.

* Italian sports car makers Ferrari, De Tomaso, Lamborghini, Pagani and Maserati all have their factories here.

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