Gastronomic Diff is proud to present an exclusive interview with Massimo Bottura. This is the first interview of the great Chef presented by a Greek media outlet since Osteria Francescana reached the top of the world’s 50 best restaurants.
The interview will be published in 3 parts:
1. Massimo Bottura & Modern Art
2. The Chef’s Mentors & How He Was Influenced by Them
3. The Stories Behind Massimo Bottura’s Most Important Dishes
This is part 1:
How has your love for contemporary art impacted your cooking?
What do art and cooking have in common? They both have an uncanny way of reaching emotions, triggering memories, leaving lasting impressions, and defining our personal history. My wife and I swap memories of artist exhibitions and important dinning experiences. These are the highlights of a life where eating and seeing become part of one’s lifetime experience, events that add layers of meaning to a per- son’s life.
Contemporary Art has had a big influence on the way I approach Italian cuisine. A story I often tell is about an artist named Gino de Dominicis. He was asked by a prominent collector for a portrait. Gino invited the collector over to his house. He set up an easel with a large white canvas. The collector sat for his portrait for hours while the artist had breakfast in bed, read the newspaper, went to the bathroom and got dressed. After several hours the collector, furious at the artist’s behaviour, asked when the por- trait would be ready. The artist said: “just wait a minute.” Gino added a small red dot to the middle of the canvas, took a step back, and said: “the portrait is finished.” Naturally when the collector saw this image he looked quizzically at the artist and the artist replied: “this is your portrait from 10 kilometres away…”
Ever since hearing that story I began to understand that what I was doing was looking at territory and tradition in the Italian kitchen from that same perspective – 10 kilometres away. Once I understood that, I allowed my kitchen to evolve, for the idea to evolve and the plates to reflect my vision of terroir, my vision of tradition.
Are there any particular artists that have influenced your work?
Artwork is important to the experience at Osteria Francescana because it informs our guests about what inspires us. We see these artworks as our landscape of ideas, a view that helps our guests read deeper into our recipes. Art inspires me to think out of the box, to get a new perspective, to see the world from under the table, upside down or inside out. Some of the artists that have influenced my work are on the walls of Osteria Francescana like Joseph Beuys, Maurizio Cattelan, Gavin Turk, and Damien Hirst.
In the Scottish Michelin guide art is linked with gastronomy as according to the guide restaurants with 3 michelin “elevate gastronomy to an art form”. We do consider you an important artist and there are two types of artists: The ones who produce art as an inner need to express themselves and the ones that produce art in order to please the critics and the audience. In which of these categories would you place yourself ?
Actually I’ve never thought of true artists as people who need to please critics. Making art is a very hard job. Art is a thinking man’s occupation. It is not about being an artisan. Chefs are artisans. We can not create whatever we want, when and how. We have an obligation to our guests to make delicious and healthy food for them. An artist can really take their work in whatever direction they see fit.
The greatest artists are those who contribute to the dialoge and push ideas forward, evolve a technique or bring to the surface a new point of view.
Some of my favorite artists are irreverent and do not make beautiful or critically acclaimed work but make objects that carry ethical and important messages. My favorite artists are those who are not afraid to be ridiculed or go against the status quo. Art is by its nature controversial, non-conformist and pushing the envelope. That is why I find it so stimulating, especially in the context of a fine dinning restaurant where no one is expecting it.
Interview taken in August 2016 by Vasilis Economidis