Massimo Bottura and René Redzepi on the art of cooking

René Redzepi is the head chef and founder of Noma. His celebrated Copenhagen restaurant was one of the initiators of recipes based on nature, season and place. His has an intellectual approach to cooking; it is about authenticity with all ingredients sourced, grown and foraged locally. Redzepi is interest in making, meaning, craft and history. Many restaurants since have explored similar roots, yet in 2003 Noma was considered radical.

Chefs are explorers of a new planet, says Redzepi. He feels the cook should be the creator of a new language. ‘Then we need an alphabet, and the more letters we have the more beautiful the prose… Yes, you are also restricted. And that makes you tight in your creativity.’

These words resonate with the team at Spinach. The role of a designer and brand creator is to think, react and create within a brief. Designers are not fine artists – they are applied artists. This doesn’t mean designers are rigid creators. Quite the contrary. Design is a very complex, problem-solving discipline and requires very specific skills that includes understanding human behaviour and tapping into emotions. As does cooking.

Massimo Bottura head chef at Modena's Osteria Francescana
Massimo Bottura head chef at Modena’s Osteria Francescana

 

Yesterday we met with another maverick, Massimo Bottura world-famous chef and founder of Osteria Francescana in Modena, Italy. Bottura is exploring a very different narrative to Redzepi – perhaps a more explosive, expressionist and at time surreal one.

A spirited speaker, he cooks up three imaginative tasters to highlight his philosophy on food. ‘It is all about the emotions,’ he begins passionately, waving his arms. ‘You don’t come to Osteria to have a big plate of lasagne; you come there to experience something bigger.’ There is a little of Dali in Bottura.

Our first plate is a deconstructed ham sandwich named Memory of a Mortadella. ‘It is a light pure foam of mortadella with the crunchy bread on the side’. He picks up a small place to demonstrate. ‘So I break it and scoop the foam like I did as a kid when for the first fourteen years of my life, on my way to school my grandfather put a mortadella sandwich in my backpack. This is something that stays with me forever. This is what drives me.’

deconstructed lasagne by Massimo Bottura
deconstructed lasagne by Massimo Bottura

 

Next, we are served an artful dish featuring a bright yellow, orange and green sculpture fearlessly projecting out of the tiny plate. On the side sits a small teaspoon of beautifully cooked minced meat. This is Bottura’s take on the humble lasagne.

Once again playing on the power of memory, the recipe celebrates the crunchy part of the dish only. He explains: ‘Every single kid in Emilia-Romagna knows it is the best part of the lasagne – the rest is for adults! I smoked, burned and transformed the lasagne into the crunchy part so you experience only this feeling.’

I am reminded of tah-deeg (in Farsi meaning literally the bottom of the pan) the crunchy part of the Persian steamed rice which absorbs all the favours of the basmati, sea salt, butter and saffron – a favourite with kids (and adults too if the kids leave any!).

Our final taster is called the Risotto Levante, created to celebrate a new car by Maserati for which Bottura is a brand ambassador. It is inspired by Lake Garda and suggest the smells, textures, spirit of this fertile land. For this dish the chef has crafted a special food perfume, the aromas of which are infused into this dish and once again sprayed on just before we taste so the flavours arrive much like the word levante suggests – an easterly breeze that blows in from the Mediterranean.

Bottura’s cooking is as much about the food as it is the performance whereby eating becomes an experience taking you to others times and other places. For him food is a visceral medium. He says: ‘Creativity is something that you have inside – it comes from your passion.’

Nargess Banks

Massimo Bottura sprays the Risotto Levante
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