Massimo Bottura is a voluble philosopher, a lover of jazz and a collector of contemporary art who spends as much time conceptualizing as cooking. His reflections have lead to radical reinterpretations of classic Italian dishes and products from his native Emilia-Romagna, such as a bollito misto that resembles the Manhattan skyline, or a potato dreaming of being a truffle. “My kitchen is about memories, and a vision for the future,” he says.
Born to a well-off family in Modena, Bottura started out working in the family’s heating oil business. Nonetheless, his passion was food, and at 23 he bought a trattoria and turned it into a popular local spot. One day Alain Ducasse dined there, and invited Bottura to apprentice at the Hôtel de Paris. The Italian accepted, selling the trattoria in 1994. He also spent time at elBulli, learning about sous-vide and dehydration, but mostly how to play with his food.
When Bottura opened Osteria Francescana in his hometown in 1995, his cutting-edge cuisine shocked traditionalists and he struggled, almost shutting it down. Fortunately, he held on, eventually earning three Michelin stars and fourth place on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list.
Ingredients of the highest quality possible are key to his cuisine. Not only does he produce his own balsamic vinegar, he also helped to save the Bianca Val Padana cows from extinction. Their milk makes the world’s best parmesan, and has done so since the Middle Ages. But when Bottura deconstructs the cheese into foam and air, it is anything but medieval.