Creativity is... a banana peel: Massimo Bottura at S.Pellegrino Young Chef Academy's Brain Food forum

The chef gave a talk on the day of the Grand Finale. With the chef from Modena, there were also Enrico Bartolini, Virgilio Martinez and others speaking

30-10-2021
Massimo Bottura on the stage of the Brain Food fo

Massimo Bottura on the stage of the Brain Food forum organised by the S.Pellegrino Young Chef Academy 

What is creativity in the kitchen? Or better still: what is creativity, applied to the attempt of imagining a cuisine that is more and more no waste? «Creativity is a banana peel», says Massimo Bottura, guest of honour at the first Brain Food forum organised by the S.Pellegrino Young Chef Academy on the day of the prize giving ceremony at the Megawatt Court in Milan.

A banana peel? To explain the concept, the chef from Modena went back to the days of Expo 2015, also in Milan: «everyone was asking me to participate in countless events, but none of these was focused on the theme of the Expo, that is to say "Feed the planet". I started to think about it and arrived to the conclusion that to "feed the planet" you first of all need to fight food waste», where it is estimated that around one third – some 1.3 billion tons – of all the food produced is wasted or lost each year, around 14% (of global food, and up to 40% in some markets) deteriorates even before it reaches retailers, all this while over 800 million people on the planet suffer from hunger.

So that's when Food for Soul's Refettori were born, the first of which was the Refrettorio Ambrosiano: today there are 15, the latest to be opened in Mendoza (Mexico), Lima (Peru), Sydney (Australia), New York and San Francisco (USA), and soon in Geneva, in January 2022. Among them, there's also the one in Rio de Janeiro, opened during the Olympic Games in 2016: «In the days before the opening ceremony, to feed the many volunteers who were helping us set the place we had mostly prepared soup. They asked me: "Why not pasta? You're Italian...». I thought about it and decided to make Carbonara on the very day of the much-awaited opening». So Bottura had some guanciale, Parmigiano Reggiano, pecorino sent from Italy. «On the much-awaited morning of the opening, I went to the pantry and... the guanciale was almost finished. The guys had eaten it in the previous days and I didn't know! I decided not to blame anyone, "no more excuses" is the sentence I have tattooed on my left arm. If anything, I had to solve the problem. A while earlier we had received a large truck full of bananas and I wondered "what shall I do with it?" and we had made plenty of sorbet, which led to a mountain of left-over peel...».

That's where the idea came from, as the chef says "always keep a door open to the unexpected". You must always use your mind, knowledge, conscience, culture, imagination and sense of responsibility to cook with what's available». Bottura must prepare Carbonara for 200 people, and the guanciale has just finished... So he puts the banana peel in salted water, and then toasts it in the oven. He cuts some of the left over guanciale in very thin slices, places it on the toasted peels, puts them back in the oven so the meat blends with the scraps of fruits. Finally, he smokes the resulting product, cuts it in cubes and here is the guanciale-non-guanciale ready to season the Carbonara, «and nobody noticed!».

Bottura with host Ryan King

Bottura with host Ryan King

The story is not over: «First lockdown in Italy, I leave my brigade at Francescana free to express themselves, but give them a theme, a prompt: the cover of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, The Beatles's 8th record. The result is the With a little help from my friends menu which is joyful and colourful» (We wrote about it here). But then the second lockdown comes, the dark atmosphere is back «and so I thought our safety boat could be culture, which is the most important ingredient for the chef of the future». The new menu at Francescana thus goes through the history of contemporary Italian cuisine, form the Fifties to our days (here's the story).

Bottura and his brigade give new life, in a different shape, to some historic dishes. Among these, Carbonara, or rather Gianfranco Vissani's Zuppa fredda di Carbonara, «we wanted to turn it into a dessert. We tried 22 times, but were never satisfied. In the end I remembered of Rio de Janeiro, of the banana peels...». And here comes the Crema inglese al pepe, guanciale, banana, gelato di pecorino, caviale, "a crazy, impossible, extraordinary dish", that's how we described it. «We start from the banana peel, toast it so it becomes a crispy cone. Then we add a base of banana cream with pecorino gelato and custard with vanilla and pecorino – which hints at the carbonara – with cubes of toasted guanciale [incredible!] which show all their sapidity. The cones look like those from ceramic artist Giorgio Di Palma at Casa Maria Luigia». And finally the touch of Vissani: a spoon of caviar at the bottom of the cone, as if it were the chocolate at the bottom of industrial ice cream cones. And, of course, pepper on top.

Crema inglese with pepper, guanciale, banana, pecorino, caviar from Massimo Bottura

Crema inglese with pepper, guanciale, banana, pecorino, caviar from Massimo Bottura

Before the well-deserved applause, Bottura leaves the Brain Food forum with an announcement and a proposal. The announcement: Food for Soul and S.Pellegrino Young Chef Academy have reached a partnership agreement, the young members of the Academy will be welcomed for internships and volunteering experience at the Refettori around the world, for an important training period. The proposal: «Today Osteria Francescana has four stars, the three "red" ones and the new, "green" one, which rewards the restaurants that are active in terms of sustainability. So why not say that, without the latter, from now on, restaurants can no longer get the three macarons?". Everyone agrees.

Virgilio Martinez

Virgilio Martinez

VIRGILIO MARTINEZ – During the morning at S.Pellegrino Young Chef Academy's Brain Food forum Bottura was not the only one to speak: on stage before him there was also Virgilio Martinez. The Peruvian chef presented Mater Iniciativa, a project that promotes and safeguards biodiversity but is also dedicated to cultural research, presenting the different communities that have developed around different ecosystems, in different areas of the country. «The focus of a chef was once only on cooking – he explained. – We now want to go deeper, starting from the kitchen, to create connections with different sectors, from science, to art and craftmanship». And then Martinez starts to study – in his own way, – the Amazon forest, «an ecosystem so different from that of the oceans, of the mountains and valleys that have been our main focus until recently». Last news: he's opening in Moscow and Tokyo.

Members of the Grand Jury

Members of the Grand Jury

ENRICO BARTOLINI AND THE GRAND JURY – After Martinez and before Bottura, space was given also to the members of the Grand Jury of the S.Pellegrino Young Chef Academy, that is to say Gavin KaysenManu BuffaraEnrico BartoliniClare Smyth and Andreas Caminada, with justified absentees Pim Techamuanvivit and Mauro Colagreco. Among the many questions they were asked: what's more important to grow professionally in the kitchen, talent or discipline? Bartolini: «Discipline helps talent to emerge, you need a mix of both. My approach is firstly professional and then creative too». They also touched the theme of the "great escape" of staff from restaurants. Again Bartolini: «It's a real problem. As Ambasciatori del Gusto we have launched some proposals, like lowering taxes on the cost of work (of which the employee will only benefit, so that their pay can be heavier), and a reform of the Ateco codes. I believe it is important that as chefs we're more present in schools, both to collaborate with teachers, and to have more students involved».

Translated into English by Slawka G. Scarso


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