15 lessons Massimo Bottura gave to the students

The chef spoke at the school in Cornaredo, where Davide Oldani is mentor. Here are the tips he gave

Massimo Bottura and Davide Oldani at Olmo in Co

Massimo Bottura and Davide Oldani at Olmo in Cornaredo. The chef from Modena shows the gift the school gave him, a work dedicated to him by artist Maurizio Galimberti

In the photo above, Massimo Bottura at the new Istituto Alberghiero Olmo in Cornaredo, which has Davide Oldani as its mentor and supporter (here’s the story: Alla scuola di Davide Oldani). After Niko Romito, the first guest of honour of the school (see: Niko Romito ospite di Oldani nella "sua" scuola di Cornaredo), it’s now the turn of the chef from Osteria Francescana who held a lesson-debate with around a hundred students (pre-enrolments for next year did great – all the 88 available places are taken).

Here’s what Bottura told the young students, and how he replied to their questions (he had already prepared a lesson on different topics: «Would you like me to focus on the art of cooking or on the importance of education?». Oldani: «It’s fantastic that Massimo spent his time to come here not just to improvise, but having already prepared a lesson or two». The chef from Modena: «I’m here for you, and for them»).

1 - «Always be ready for the unexpected. Don’t go to school with your mind turned off, but once you follow an idea, be aware of the choice you made. Smile, analyse limits and qualities, listen and observe. We do the same every day at Francescana: we face everyday life like 30 years ago, yearning to know more».

Bottura in Cornaredo between school director Luca Azzollini and Davide Oldani

Bottura in Cornaredo between school director Luca Azzollini and Davide Oldani

2 - «The most important ingredient in the kitchen is culture: it allows you to express yourself, your creativity. Working at Francescana is, first of all, a way of expressing ourselves through food. Culture makes you free».

3 - «Don’t get lost in everyday life. That is to say, don’t just go to school just because you have to. If this is your approach to school, it will also be your approach to life. And it’s a huge mistake»

4 - «Chefs are not rock stars. It’s hard work. It requires a lot of constant commitment to succeed. You need rigour, every morning. You must learn, travel, be influenced by other places in the world. Learn how to marinate fish in Peru, how to choose it in Japan, how to make a sauce with butter in France».

5 - «The future is in your hands. Not every one of you will become Davide Oldani. This school must give you the tools to face life, not just your career. I’m here with you today and for me it’s more important than speaking with, say Obama about climate change: because if I can reach the heart of just one of you, I can send a very important message».

6 - «You must have a perfect knowledge of tradition. Otherwise, you’ll only make a mess. I was lucky enough to meet Lidia Cristoni, a great rezdora from Modena. A lady who’s been using a rolling pin for 35 years. She’s almost blind. She had lost her job because of this. One day she said: “If you want, I’d like to help you”. I said: “Lidia, get an apron, let’s begin”. She taught me how to approach work professionally».

7 - «You need humbleness, like Lidia. It’s essential. She taught me that half an hour before service everyone should sit around the table, including the kitchen hand, and be a team. This is the only way to overcome difficulties. Working as a team is how you avoid mistakes».

8 - «It’s nice to be able to count on excellent teachers. Georges Cogny, a great French chef working in Piacenza, taught me classic French cuisine. I took those techniques and applied them to Modenese tradition. He was a revolutionary, at the time: he used oil from the Riviera, with the aroma of lemon, instead of cream and butter. This is how I was able to grow. Alain Ducasse dined at my restaurant and then asked me to work with him in Monte Carlo».

9 - «You need to look at things in depth. Cooking allows you to create comparisons between many different worlds; for instance, I love art, music, but you can create these comparisons with whatever you are passionate about. Go beyond service, beyond appearances; try to understand the deep message that farmers, winegrowers, and artisans are sending you when presenting their products; the idea they can convey».

10 - «You must know tradition, but in order to break it, to break the schemes. Until 10 years ago everyone was criticising me. A TV programme said I was doing chemistry, not cooking. They said my dishes were dangerous, “he’s poisoning young minds, expressing concepts that are too difficult for our country”. Now I’m here, because breaking tradition is the only way to build a new tradition and keep preserving a centennial knowledge that forms an incredible heritage, especially in a country like Italy».

11 - «Be passionate. I believe I owe this passion to my grandmother Ancella. I used to spend the whole day with her, in the kitchen. I owe it to my siblings too. Especially my eldest brother, who loves wine and food. He took me to Peppino Cantarelli, and San Domenico… Passion is essential. At Francescana we don’t consider this a real job, but a way of expressing our humanity. Every morning, when we look into the mirror, we must give thanks for our luck».

12 - «We need conscience and a sense of responsibility, as well as culture and knowledge. This is why we’re called Osteria Francescana. I inherited this name from the previous management. I didn’t want to change it. We have a church dedicated to San Francesco close by. The birocciai who used to supply it with food, once used our spaces as a barn for their horses. “Francescana” is a perfect fit: it recalls the idea of getting rid of everything in order to recuperate everything. This is avant-garde in the kitchen: knowing so as to forget and then create something new».

13 - «Today’s chefs are much more than a group of recipes. If you have conscience and a sense of responsibility, you’ll know the time has come to give something back. Every year 1.3 billion tons of food are wasted, while over 800 million people are starving. Feeding the planet is not about increasing production. It’s about reducing waste. My grandmother wouldn’t let me leave the table if I hadn’t cleaned my dish; for me the greatest delicacy was a cup of hot milk with grated stale bread, some left over coffee and some sugar. In Rio de Janeiro, where we opened one of our Refettori, every day 11 large lorries filled with food go to the incinerator, because it’s cheaper to burn that food than to distribute it. In the same city, 2.5 million people struggle in the streets. It’s ridiculous».

14 - «Entering a kitchen doesn’t mean alienating yourself. It means you’re creating the foundations for a gesture of love. Dedicate time to your shopping: speak with farmers, shop owners, even with supermarket manager. Ask for their tips on how to cook what you have in the fridge, everything. Without filling it with useless things, without wasting».

15 - «If you’ll finally find success, remember other people too. The most beautiful thing I do, from a human perspective, is the work I do at the Refettori. We’re going to open one in Paris now. Today, however, I’m happy of the prizes, the stars given to Francescana, because they allow me to be credible. They allow me to call the greatest chefs in Paris and ask them to join my project. It’s the same thing that Davide did here at Olmo: it was all abandoned. You now have a beautiful school. Don’t waste this chance».

Dennis, 14, gets up: «Chef, what do you recommend to those like me who want to start this career?».

Bottura’s reply: «Become obsessed with what you’re doing. Always stand beside your professor, even if others say you’re a lap dog. Learn. Then, at some point, knock on the door of a place close by. It’s called D’O. Ask if you can help at the weekend and during the holidays. Be ready to polish dishes, at first. Then you’ll start washing them, then you’ll taste something and so on. Weekend after weekend. By working, you’ll earn some money. Invest it to go to Lyon, and see how a great chef cooks there. Go to Spain, to Northern Europe… But always remember that your roots are in Cornaredo. This is how you’ll learn you’ve chosen a life of sacrifice, and of passion too. And this will make you forget your efforts. Cooking will become a part of you».

Maestri all’Olmo”, the series of lessons given by Italian cuisine icons at Olmo in Cornaredo, continues in March with three events, with Ernst KnamAndrea Berton, and Enrico Crippa.
Translated into English by Slawka G. Scarso



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