With a little help from my friends

For his new, captivating menu, Bottura used The Beatles as his guide: «Now we can see who’s a real friend and who’s not». And at the entrance the bronze figure of Rose, a housewife from Florida, shines

23-06-2020

Some have lived through this quarantine passively, and now that businesses are back at work they don’t know what to do, while some have made use of this time to think of future scenarios, and now they start again with energy, attacking the Covid monster and all the bad-omen-birds that fly in its shade.

The former, stars or not, closed on the 8th of March, when Italy got closed. The latter know that we’re now in June, they live the present with a foot already placed in the days to come. You can tell the pessimists already by their voice, as they show a soft, sleepy tone, slurring their words and sighing in turn, poor me. 

The voice of the latter, instead, is clear, words and concepts are fully expressed, it’s a pleasure to listen to them and see their moves. 

This is the case, not the only at that, of Massimo Bottura and of the Francescana project in Modena. TheOsteria opened on Tuesday 2nd of June, the Day of the Republic, and, most of all, the day of those who truly believe in committing oneself, in doing business,  in respecting and making the economy. For sure this is not the holiday of those who live on state aid, of those who live hanging on the sponsor of the moment, of those who follow incapable politicians, never ready to take their responsibility.

At number 22 in Via Stella it’s as if there was a plant of pure energy. They’re not alone: «Have you seen what the Cerea family has done in Bergamo?», the chef from Modena recalls. When you arrive, Frankieis no longer there. The guard has been moved to the meeting room nearby.

Luisa Acciarri at the end of the lunch in front of Rose, the bronze statue by Duane Hanson at the entrance of Osteria Francescana

Luisa Acciarri at the end of the lunch in front of Rose, the bronze statue by Duane Hanson at the entrance of Osteria Francescana

He was replaced by another sculpture, Flea Market Lady, or simply Rose, a housewife from Florida immortalized, just like Franchino, by Duane Hanson in a hyper realistic bronze statue. 

Rose, who weighs 250 kilos, is beautiful in its sloppiness which she does nothing to hide. Hanson placed her on a metal foldable chair. She’s there to sell useless things and spends her time reading a magazine. Light blue t-shirt, a yellow visor to protect her forehead from the sun and on the ground, all around her, the knick knack we often see in American films, or in reality whenever you drive from one coast to the other of the United States.

After greeting Rose, we go to our table, at lunchtime on the fourth day of opening. Bottura is satisfied with the bookings. With the Italian borders open since the 3rd of June, he’s full of Italians but there’s also a table with three people who are not Italian. They drove here from Germany. An excellent sign, while summer is approaching, during which Francescana will not close for the holidays, not even in August. Too much time has been wasted, during the past few months, holidays can wait.

And then there’s no better cure than work to keep Covid-related ghosts and worries at bay. The practical result for Botturawas a totally new menu, that oozes a powerful energy. He had no distraction, in terms of travels, commitments, work, running after the media in every corner of the globe. Closed at home with his family, he focused on a few things.

The Bottura family poses during a break of Kitchen Quarantine. Left to right Charlie, Alexa, Massimo and Lara. Photo Fine Dining Lovers

The Bottura family poses during a break of Kitchen Quarantine. Left to right CharlieAlexaMassimo and Lara. Photo Fine Dining Lovers

For instance, Kitchen Quarantine, an idea to empty the fridge launched by daughter Alexa in perfect harmony with Food for Soul, a detail so significant it got them a Webby Award. It was entirely recorded with a smartphone and showed a rare freshness at this time. The Bottura family was smiling while the chefs who went from cooking at the restaurant to doing this at home showed too many sheepish faces.

Now at Osteria Francescana there’s only one tasting menu. The watchword is optimisation. These times do not allow for the smallest waste. And we say so of a person who created a dessert out of breadcrumbs, Bread is gold, which then also became the title of a book celebrating Refettorio Ambrosiano in the days of Expo Milano 2015.

The title of this journey among colours and flavours is With a little help from my friend, which mostly refers to the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, out in 1967 and voted best album of all time by Rolling Stone. Yet you’ll see there are titles of other songs too. Why the group that united for ever, beyond the years of shared work, John LennonPaul McCartneyGeorge Harrison and Ringo Star? Why the four guys from Liverpool and not Bob Dylan, another idol of the Modenese chef? «Because Dylan always sings with an I. The Beatles are plural».

Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, let the new menu at Osteria Francescana begin

Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, let the new menu at Osteria Francescana begin

First a provocation that brings you back to the Sixties. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is the three coloured buttons that remind one of LSD, one with saffron, one with beetroot and the third with pineapple, a hint at Alain Ducasse’s experience in the early Nineties. A Day in the Life is a pastry bread tied with honey from Casa Maria Luigia and crystal salts. You’re happy with one but I would have asked for another two at least, however, because of the balance reached by exasperating every detail. This is only the beginning, but all that the chef from Modena tells you, you’ll then find when tasting. It’s not just storytelling, blah blah blah which is already hard to stand in times of peace, let alone during a war against coronavirus.

Cellophane Flowers & Kaleidoscope Eyes

Cellophane Flowers & Kaleidoscope Eyes

Cellophane Flowers & Kaleidoscope Eys is a dazzling play with squid ink, scallops, mussels and bottarga, a new interpretation of the old Caesar Salad that lands right after this on the Yellow Submarine, a total-yellow recipe with turbot, potatoes, pineapple, daikon and flowers. By the look of it, you don’t expect any surprise, instead, it shows an extraordinary character and force, long and persistent flavours.

Yellow Submarine

Yellow Submarine

Do you remember, I address those who have at least half a century of life under their belt, Strawberry Risotto? Here it is: Strawberry Fields, rice with a gazpacho of strawberries, lambrusco, scampi, smoked mozzarella (from Raffaele Barlotti) and Sichuan pepper. And cod with green sauce? I’ve had it over and over again, but not this one. The sauce served is a green curry, paired with If I’m Wrong I’m Right, and it’s a revolution of any certainty connected to a timeless fish, one of the very few that take all the time they need, without anyone expecting to eat it when it’s freshly caught.

If I'm Wrong I'm Right: Cod in green curry sauce 

If I'm Wrong I'm Right: Cod in green curry sauce 

Perhaps because of the moment, which is very important in a place where the story is as important as the food, the Ravioli, smoked pork belly, clams from Goro and New England clam chowder reach the highest peak of satisfaction. Massimo paired them with We Are All Connected Under One Roof, and Covid, as well as the protests in memory of George Floyd, are the nth proof of this.

We Are All Connected Under One Roof, Ravioli, pork belly...

We Are All Connected Under One Roof, Ravioli, pork belly...

With Who’s Afraid of Red Yellow Green and Orange they serve glazed pigeon with blueberries and elderberries, a sauce of cherries, a croquette of pigeon with apricots and savor. First the breast and then the meatball which hints at a Crème caramel with milk, foie gras, caramel and Manuka honey. This is In and Out of Style and then perhaps it wasn’t elegant but I asked to relive a memory, a nest of tagliatelle with ragù, before the cakes arrived.

In and Out of Style: Crème caramel with milk, foie gras...

In and Out of Style: Crème caramel with milk, foie gras...

And only then there’s Summer Is Coming, a colourful Crumble with yoghurt mousse, pea granita, strawberries, carrots, azuki and shiso, potato and basil origami.

Summer Is Coming

Summer Is Coming

In The Sky Without Lucythere’s Roasted peaches, blueberry sauce, birch syrup, rosemary ice cream, rose meringue, candyfloss, while for the final Sgt. Pepper Lonely Hearts Club Band it was everything but the lysergic opening of three hours before, with two bites of Vignola, Camouflage, raspberry Macaron and yuzu madeleine.

The sense of the whole experience in a quote from Bottura: «If after all we’re going through there are those who have no new ideas, it means their world was over».

Translated into English by Slawka G. Scarso


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