A happy stumble. Pasta according to Bottura

The chef from Modena calls most of his brigade on stage. And presents successful dishes based on mistakes

Massimo Bottura joins French colleague Yannick Al

Massimo Bottura joins French colleague Yannick Alleno on the stage of Identità di Pasta: the chef from Modena is to open a Refettorio in Paris on the 15th March in the crypt of the church of the Madeleine. The first service will be directed by Alleno and Alain Ducasse (photo Brambilla/Serrani)

What can you expect of a lesson by Massimo Bottura on pasta? Everything except a lesson, of course. Or to put it better, perhaps not a “cooked” lesson on cooking – it was hard both for the chef and the audience to follow all the steps in the many recipes that were presented, offering a tasting to the audience – but a “pondered” lesson on cooking, and a lesson on everything that lies behind the birth and evolution of a dish.

Lots or research and ponderation, sure, but also the capacity of joining curiosity and ideas, attempts and mistakes, so that something new can be born from their meeting. «If you don’t get lost in your daily work, and remain vigil and curious, even mistakes can become an opportunity. Research is a happy stumble». So, on the stage of Identità di Pasta the chef from Modena called almost all of his brigade, recreating in a way the “creative chaos” on which the work at Osteria Francescana and in his many projects – from Franceschetta to Refettorio soon to open in Paris – is based.

Each one of his collaborators – all wearing their service tracksuits and sneakers – prepares and explains a dish that was born thanks to a “stumble” or from the chef’s request of analysing pasta, the topic of the day which turns into an opportunity to speak of the human factor. Pippo makes spaghetto del refettorio. The dish was born when they once prepared the staff meal using waste from a sole-based dish in the menu: the eggs, marinated in sake and preserved in salt, are smoked and emulsified, thus becoming a sauce with the touch of umani found in cheese crusts and in anchovy colatura, adding blanched, dehydrated and powdered lemon zest.

Simone prepares Bottura’s take on borlengo – a sort of thin and crispy crêpe made with water and flour, and served with chopped lard, garlic, rosemary and grated cheese, the typical poor food in Modena – made with overcooked pasta, later made crispy (blended, dehydrated and fried). It was born thanks to an exchange of ideas with DavideBerno, from Rome – but «with an open mind and the gift of humility» says the chef – makes Amatriciana a Modena, in the menu at Franceschetta: «One of the most important lessons I learnt from Massimo, is that you should always be open to new influences, you should keep your eyes wide open when you travel, so as to enrich your dishes with ingredients from new places. This led me to think of Amatriciana in the context of Modena».

Tonnarelli, “forgotten” in the sauce, are partly blended and become a sort of cream served with a crispy element, given by jowl bacon and the remaining tonnarelli – but dried and fried. Yet there are “local” elements too: the Traditional Balsamic Vinegar in which they slowly cook the onion (in the style of Angelo Troiani, with whom Berno worked in the past) and the thickening with Parmigiano or grated cheese. What’s important, points out Bottura, «is that you look at your origins with a critical approach, not with nostalgia».

More space for outside influences in the dishes presented by foreign collaborators, a source of entropy and inspiration. «When you ask a Japanese or a Canadian their take on pasta, you must be ready for the unexpected». Jessica, from Canada, came up with the idea of Spaghetti and meatballs that draws from the idea on which Autumn a New York was based. The latter dish in the menu at Francescana was born after a walk at the market in Union Square as Bottura told us: «I wanted to represent the seasonality and the place where I was at that moment through a dish. It’s like a container that evolves so as to express different seasons and places». In this case, the typical dish of Italian-Americans, which everyone makes differently, given there’s no such thing as an “original” recipe.

Japanese Taka makes a soup from bones of game that is inspired by memories of his grandmother’s cuisine and of his travels to Thailand. The result is a strong broth that reminds one of Thai tom thanks to the acidity given by lemon and lime squeezed on the moment, and served very hot – a welcome that puts the human factor at the centre of the restaurant – with letter-shaped pasta made for them especially by Pastificio Felicetti.

Finally, the dessert, the result of Robin’s take on pasta. The French pastry-chef made a sweet pasta that starts from a classic background, creating a crispy wafer – also born from the above mentioned creative stumble – with overcooked pasta and saffron, transformed into a millefoglie, filled with vanilla custard, salted caramel, orange and lemon gel. «This is the team, this is the reality – ends Bottura after having dished out and fed the audience – the rest, is nothing but talk».
Translated into English by Slawka G. Scarso

Monograno Felicetti

Monograno Felicetti

Luciana Squadrilli


Luciana Squadrilli

a journalist born in Naples now living in Rome, she tries to make her three passions meet: eating, travelling and writing