United cultures of Francescana: Bottura changes paradigm. And "moves" the beauty of Italy to Casa Maria Luigia

Cultural biodiversity in Via Stella, Modena as the epicentre of a glocal Massimo-system, with two separate and complementary opposites. The chef: «This is the project of my life»

03-09-2020

«Yes, all right, the Beatles. But...». But it’s not like Massimo Bottura is too happy about this interpretation of the overall meaning of his new, celebrated menu in Modena. The quartet from Liverpool almost appears as a pop trick, a pure though stimulating narrative device. But when you dig deeper, there’s more. And we believe that this “more” is focused on a concept the chef repeats multiple times, as we chat with him during our dinner, a few days ago at Osteria Francescana: «Here we express our cultural biodiversity». One would say: a strong change of paradigm, of which one could notice some signs already in the past, but which now becomes a clear choice of style and "philosophy", in that it serves functionally and conceptually to better understand the Bottura-system as it has proved to be in the most recent weeks. A novelty, even for our journalistic reports. Which we present here.

In other words, Francescana changes (it can change, should change, wants to change, has changed) because now – before everything and above everything – there’s also Casa Maria Luigia, and Bottura’s eyes shine just by talking about it. And then because in 2021 there will also be restaurant Il Cavallino by Bottura in the Ferrari headquarters (see here). Because in April he’ll open the third Gucci Osteria, this time in Ginza, Tokyo, after Piazza della Signoria, Florence and Rodeo Drive, Los Angeles. Because there’s the Refettori scattered around the world, and others to open in the future. Because there’s Torno Subito in Dubai. And so on. Not a disordered development, but a project with an overall converging logic, intertwining its elements as the pieces of a mosaic that is forming and that has for the restaurant in Via Stella a “renewed”, cosmopolitan identity.

Casa Maria Luigia

Casa Maria Luigia

The crucial crossroads in this system is therefore Casa Maria Luigia, a project that has already been launched and is still in fieri – the building is already there, marvellous, and working perfectly. But around it there’s something new appearing – as said, as soon as you mention it Bottura shows an unprecedented enthusiasm (ok, he probably oozes adrenalin even when he goes to the dentist. But never so much). He says: «Today you cannot understand Francescana if you don’t visit Maria Luigia». And to be clearer he says: «It’s the project of my life».

Why? Because it fully represents the essence of its author: at Casa Maria Luigia he moves like a Renaissance sponsor but – with the inclusive thought that’s typical of him – he transforms his palace not in a private family estate, but in a place dedicated to hospitality and to cultural sharing, starting from food, going back to food and developing it as a theme on many levels. It’s that match of Good and Beauty that Bottura has always sought, think of his embracing maison Gucci. This is an act of making the culinary art more noble, thanks to a wider knowledge, whether it’s focused on Emilia, or on Italy  in general: Mimmo Palladino and MaseratiAlessandro Mendini and the traditional balsamic vinegar, Lamborghini and Michelangelo PistolettoDucati and Mario Schifano, Parmigiano Reggiano and again FerrariGucci... And then also Ai WeiweiDamien HirstAndy WarholJoseph Beuys and many more, because there’s no limit to culture.

Casa Maria Luigia: interior and exterior

Casa Maria Luigia: interior and exterior

Art, cuisine, design, technology, industry, craftmanship, music, agriculture: the Italian know how finds its meeting and expressive point here, with a view on the fertile lands of Modena... All these excellences in a place of conviviality around the table, following our centennial tradition – the shared wood tables, from Mendini, are also used at Refettorio – where indeed they offer a menu with great iconic dishes from Francescana, "nine courses chosen to sum up 25 years of history".

Restaurant Francescana at Maria Luigia with the shared wood tables, from Mendini, a great Milanese designer who passed away last year 

Restaurant Francescana at Maria Luigia with the shared wood tables, from Mendini, a great Milanese designer who passed away last year 

Caesar salad in bloom, one of the historic signature dishes from Osteria Francescana, now part of the tasting menu at Francescana at Maria Luigia

Caesar salad in bloom, one of the historic signature dishes from Osteria Francescana, now part of the tasting menu at Francescana at Maria Luigia

It’s a declaration of intent. Massimo seems to say (in our words): "I’ve finally reached my basic goal, that is to say place the result of my profession, that of a cook, on an equal level as everything else", the above-mentioned elements. And to create a place that perfectly represents Italy, where cooking is a crucial element, as it should be. The crowning of over thirty years of work; a celebration not of himself, but of Italy, through his (Bottura’s) creativity and capacity of creating connections.

The vegetable garden at Casa Maria Luigia. Bottura is thrilled about 

The vegetable garden at Casa Maria LuigiaBottura is thrilled about 

«But where does the territory end?», we had asked Bottura the previous night during the dinner at Francescana, which was instead focused on the new paradigm of cultural biodiversity. And his reply was: «Come to Casa Maria Luigia tomorrow and you’ll find out». Because while the latter "becomesBottura – that is to say a spectacular summary of (his) Italian talent - Francescana develops the other main element of contemporary life: it becomes global just as much as the other creates a local connection to the region, which recalls a famous quote of Bottura’s that refers to the work of a contemporary chef who must have «his feet well grounded, and his head in the clouds». An existential dualism that well represents what characterises him today, and is represented by the two poles in Modena, different but on the same level: Francescana and Maria Luigia.

Two dishes that struck us at Osteria Francescana: Strawberry Fields (rice with strawberry gazpacho, lambrusco, prawns, smoked mozzarella and Sichuan pepper)...

Two dishes that struck us at Osteria FrancescanaStrawberry Fields (rice with strawberry gazpacho, lambrusco, prawns, smoked mozzarella and Sichuan pepper)...

...and If I'm Wrong I'm Right (cod with green curry sauce. Fantastic. The curry sauce is more delicate than the Asian original. Bottura removes the garlic, «or else it covers everything. «The problem of Asian chefs is that they don’t travel much»)

...and If I'm Wrong I'm Right (cod with green curry sauce. Fantastic. The curry sauce is more delicate than the Asian original. Bottura removes the garlic, «or else it covers everything. «The problem of Asian chefs is that they don’t travel much»)

But please note: the "global" is not intended as a flattening standardisation that removes any specific aspect, where everything is simply the same everywhere; instead, it acts as a multiplier of the cultural biodiversity that one can find in the kitchen in Via Stella – represented by a multi-ethnic brigade which Bottura now leaves free to express itself, and indeed the tasting menu is called With a little help from my friends.

So in other words, United cultures of Francescana: strong identities that interact and create a new one, enriched thanks to the complexity from which it is born, with potentially endless and unforeseeable results, surely stimulating. And which you can already enjoy, as Gabriele Zanatta explained here in Identità Golose early in July, when speaking of one of the dishes in the tasting menu, some spectacular dumplings...

"...It’s made of dumpling with a filling of pork belly smoked in a wood oven and glazed with maple syrup from Jessica Rosval, the Canadian chef from Casa Maria Luigia. To the filling of each one of the 3 rich raviolis (…), the two cooks of Via Stella Davide Di Fabio and Taka Kondo add a part of fresh meat with a touch of cotechino gelatine which then melts with the heat. Before closing it, they place under the belly a small clam from Goro (...). Wrapped around all this, is a very thin, elastic, gummy dough, an alchemy traced by Choi Jongho, a Taiwanese magician in the brigade in Modena (…). At the client’s table, over the perimeter of the dumplings they pour a reduced version of clam chowder, a popular soup from New England in the East Coast of the US. With an elegant element: on top of the jug of sauce they add some herb oil (…). It’s all finished with some grated lime, without getting to the albedo, which is too bitter. The result: North America, Asia and Italy in the same bowl.” 

We Are All Connected Under One Roof

We Are All Connected Under One Roof

The dish’s name: We are all connected under one roof. The connection, in this case, is Bottura, who embraces everyone and everything: «In our future there will always be future».

Translated into English by Slawka G. Scarso


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