Come discover Italy with me

Bottura and a bible-volume encouraging us to love our very badly treated country: let’s stop squandering ourselves

Massimo Bottura, chef and patron at Osteria France

Massimo Bottura, chef and patron at Osteria Francescana in Modena during the presentation of Vieni in Italia con me on the stage of Eataly Smeraldo in Milan last October 28th

Modena, last Saturday, October 25th, one thousand and five hundred people came to his town to listen to him. And on Tuesday 28th he was in Milan at Eataly Smeraldo. Rome will come later, on Sunday November 30th, where he will certainly not go unnoticed. Even though the English version of his first life gospel is called Never Trust a Skinny Italian Chef, the very thin chef is certainly not him, and besides when it comes to Massimo Bottura, for it is of him we’re talking, that skinniness has not to be intended as physical thinness, but as an aridity of mind, heart and character.

In the Italian version, the title changes and becomes Vieni in Italia con me, Come to Italy with me. Vieni in Italia con me however, is also the title of the fourth chapter and, before that, of a book from 1937 dedicated to Benito Mussolini by the founder of Cucina Italiana, Umberto Notari, a small volume that the wife of the chef, Lara Gilmore, American from New York, once found at a second hand book stall.

It still appears like an out-of-place encouragement. What should someone who lives in Naples, Florence or Verona and is already in these places do? Travel in his mind. This is not a real journey, you don’t need to take a plane, a train or a car. Better still, this is a way of looking at Italy with different eyes and mind. Bottura said, screamed in the microphone of Smeraldo: “We Italians are the worst PRs for Italy, we always speak ill of it”. And we often produce and sell the worst products “while the best, tastiest and most beautiful things are right in front of us. The Italy of artisans, of absolutely delicious food that we chefs need to use and promote”.

The book, published by Phaidon and co-published in Italy by L’ippocampo, 39.90 euros with photos by Carlo Benvenuto and Stefano Graziani, “is not a recipe book – the chef from Modena stresses – even though you will find some recipes at the end”, so much so, I add, that in the introduction we can read “This is a profoundly Italian recipe book”. But the word recipe, in this case, is the synonym for some very Italian stories. It is, in fact, his biography, not the kind of recipe book everyone seems to have the right to write today. It is the story of a 50-year-old man who used to study law and who, in 1986, at 20, was guided by his brother Paolo in the middle of the countryside and didn’t understand much. Campazzo was a little spot, with more fog than houses, in one of which there was an osteria whose owner was a real talent for car engines and Paolo was looking for a mechanic for his Saab car dealership. And what about Massimo? Massimo, as his brother hoped, understood that the family profession, selling hydrocarbon, was not for him “and so I happened to become the owner of a restaurant in the middle of nowhere”.

Livornese style mullet according to Massimo Bottura’s recipe

Livornese style mullet according to Massimo Bottura’s recipe

Nine years later, in 1995, he moved to another osteria, Osteria Francescana which today everyone praises but which during the first years was twice on the verge of closing down because making people get to know you and understand you is never easy. Those were the years of the experience abroad, such as that at El Bulli with Ferran Adrià, for many people more of an alchemist than a chef. Bottura remembers that when he returned everyone would tease him “What will you do now? A foam of mortadella?”. Indeed, the foam arrived “but it took me four years to fine tune it”.

Mortadella, or Livornese mullet or pasta and beans, were all re-interpreted. In that sense, this sentence is worth framing: “The kitchen is a place that helps you remember, but also forget”. Remember the best, like flavours, for instance, and forget the worst.


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