Bottura finally bags top spot; Osteria Francescana named world’s best restaurant
Cheers were heard around the world for this one.
Last Monday, for the first time, an Italian restaurant received the honor of being proclaimed the No. 1 Restaurant in the World.
Modena’s Chef Massimo Bottura of Osteria Francescana finally conquered the top spot on the annual World’s 50 Best Restaurant list.
The rejoicing wasn’t so much for the fact that an Italian restaurant had been named World’s Best Restaurant. The cheers were more for the restaurant’s creator and chef, Massimo Bottura, a man resoundingly applauded and loved around the world.
The Italian chef has earned respect throughout the years for daring to innovate on traditional Italian cuisine. But he has penetrated both peoples’ minds and hearts as he used his status as celebrity chef in the past few years to uplift the lives of farmers and depressed communities the world over.
It was a slow and steady climb to the top for the Italian restaurant. Not mentioned at all in the first years of the list, Osteria Francescana debuted in the World’s 50 Best only in 2009 at No. 13. The following year, it climbed to the Top 10 (No. 6). In 2011, it entered the Top 5. By 2013, it was in the Top 3. Last year, though avid followers thought it would finally be declared the world’s best, it ranked No. 2. This year, the modern Italian restaurant finally got the premier spot.
The journey had been slow and steady as well, or, in the words of Bottura himself, “long and arduous” in acquiring the restaurant’s Michelin stars. While Osteria Francescana opened in 1995, it received two stars yet a decade later, in 2006; and its third star yet another six years later, in 2012.
It’s not surprising that the journey has taken longer for Bottura, in spite of his talent and genius. One must remember that Italy is a mecca of cuisine embedded in tradition.
Just as Rome wasn’t built in a day, the revolution against something as set in stone as traditional Italian cuisine cannot be won overnight.
In fact, Bottura has wisely refrained from calling it a revolution and has coined his creations “tradition in evolution” instead, a phrase that has become the mantra of Osteria Francescana.
What he presents are not creations from sheer imagination but “a collision of ideas, cultures, techniques and gestures.” His creations are deeply rooted in traditional Italian cuisine but presented in a way that is clever and novel.
“In Italy, there are many nostalgic things like the Pope and your grandmother’s recipe,” Bottura said in an interview. “There’s thousands of years of culture there. We need to preserve that but we also need to renew that.”
And that’s exactly what Bottura does. At Osteria Francescana, every dish is a tribute to Italian culinary tradition. Yet not what you expect.
Croccantino, which has a recipe dating back to the time of the legendary Pellegrino Artusi (1800s), is recreated by Bottura in the form of a lollipop of foie gras cloaked in almonds and accented with balsamic vinegar.
Andy Halyer has observed, “The three-Michelin-star Bottura can, in fact, transport you to his mother’s kitchen on a wisp of mortadella foam. It is whimsical, yes, but the dish is also a dialogue about ingredients and a love story about one’s heritage.”
After earning his third Michelin star, Bottura proved that not only is he an artist and an intellectual; he is also a leader capable of brilliantly using his celebrity to change the world.
Bottura’s metamorphosis from chef to advocate was best exemplified in 2012. This was the year Osteria Francescana received its third Michelin star but also the year that an earthquake shook the Emilia-Romagna region.
I chanced upon Bottura at the Salone del Gusto food fair in Turin, Italy, where the Philippines had a booth (other Filipino regulars here are Slow Food advocate Chit Juan and gourmet Beth Romualdez). He was working hard to promote Parmigiano Reggiano to help the cheesemakers affected by the earthquake.
In an impromptu interview, Bottura shared, “Parmigiano Reggiano is part of my culture, my tradition, my feelings, my memory. That’s why I try to give back (in return for) all these years of success that I have had. (The farmers) need some help. After the earthquake last May and June in Emilia, the producers (of Parmigiano Reggiano) lost 220,000 cubic rolls of Parmigiano. That’s why we have decided to create the Parmigiano Reggiano Night (to raise funds) to rebuild … 39 cheesemakers, they lost everything,” Bottura explained passionately.
Bottura was brilliantly able to use his chef skills to save the industry. He created a risotto-inspired recipe that used the Parmigiano Reggiano to encourage restaurateurs around Italy to support the cheesemakers of Modena and utilize the devastated rolls of cheese. The recipe included cooking rice in a broth that used Parmigiano Reggiano, creating an intense flavor.
“This is an Emilian symbol of hope and recovery,” Bottura said.
At Osteria, he now also serves a dish that portrays both genius and patriotism: Parmigiano Reggion in Five Ways. “There is only one ingredient,” the server explains, “The only difference is time.” Whatever complexities it entails, it tastes amazing.
Saving the world
Today, Bottura continues to use his celebrity to change the world.
It was heartwarming to listen to his acceptance speech on the World 50 Best stage (which was held for the first time in New York City this year incidentally where, as per Netflix, Bottura met his lovely wife Lara, who has been instrumental in the success of Osteria Francescana).
“The most important ingredient for the future is culture. Because culture brings knowledge (and) knowledge opens consciousness. From consciousness to the sense of responsibility, the step is very short,” said the World’s No. 1.
Sounds like wisdom from Spider-Man but Bottura keeps it real. For instance, with the Philippine delegation to Madrid Fusion earlier this year, we also witnessed him advocate ending food waste through a kind of soup kitchen.
Ambassador of culture
“We can feed more than 7 billion in the world. But now over 500 million tons (of food) are being discarded. The United States and the European Union have committed to reduce waste to half in the next 10-15 years. Osteria Francescana has put this in practice through a concrete project,” Bottura explained, as he accepted the Chef of the Year award.
Bottura converted an old theater into a space where volunteers come together to transform food that otherwise would be wasted into edible, tasty food for public consumption, e.g. milk that is about to expire is used to make croquettas, old bread is converted into pudding, etc.
Bottura will be bringing his soup kitchen or Refettorio to Rio de Janeiro this August, in time for the Olympic games; and at the World’s 50 Awards Night, he invited chefs around the world to join and support him. “I am counting on all of you to open the next soup kitchen with me,” he said last Monday night in New York.
“Our celebrity allows us to be ambassadors of our culture,” Bottura said earlier at Madrid Fusion. “It is our duty to give ideas on the evolution of cuisine. So let’s start from our homes, our restaurants, to convert waste into food because the supply of food is in danger. Whatever we save is something that we have gained. Let’s change the perception of waste; and show that (what appears to be waste) is in fact something that can be utilized and shared.”
Wise words of generosity and responsibility from a chef who, without a doubt, deserves the honor of being called The World’s No. 1.
Osteria Francescana. Via Stella 22, Modena, Italy. For details visit www.osteriafrancescana.it.
For full list of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants, visit theworlds50best.com and margauxlicious.com. Follow @margauxsalcedo on Twitter, Instagram.