Inside The Best Restaurant In The World
It was an achievement more than 20 years in the making. Three days ago at The World’s 50 Best Restaurants Awards in New York, Osteria Francescana was finally named the number one restaurant on Earth – knocking El Celler de Can Roca off the top spot and becoming the first Italian establishment to take the title. Owner Mr Massimo Bottura has long been recognised as one of the world’s greatest chefs. He gained his third Michelin star in 2012, and Osteria has been hovering around the world’s top five since 2011, spending the last two years in second place. It has not always been like this, however. When Mr Bottura opened his restaurant in 1995 in his birthplace of Modena – a quaint, pastel-hued city in Emilia-Romagna, Northern Italy – the locals (and the food critics) did not take kindly to him tampering with the time-honoured dishes that their mammas and nonnas used to make. Misunderstood for the first five years of business, he very nearly gave it all up.
You can understand why Modena’s residents – home to the finest (and fastest) Italian supercar makers, but equally renowned for its slow cooking and even slower pace of life – were reluctant to accept Mr Bottura. Meeting him in his restaurant, he speaks almost as fast as he drives his Maserati – launching into lengthy speeches about the concept of creativity and his cultural influences. These range from travel to poetry to music (he is a huge jazz fan, Mr Thelonious Monk in particular) – but it is contemporary art that has had the most apparent impact on his food. Oops! I Dropped The Lemon Tart, for example, is a dish that was inspired when his chef, “Taka”, did exactly that during service. Mr Bottura insisted that they recreate it on the plate. The restaurant itself is adorned with contemporary art: an arresting piece by Mr Maurizio Cattelan shows two pigeons defecating on the classic art of previous generations – a metaphor representing Mr Bottura’s own desire to “break the past”, or avoid nostalgia when cooking. “It’s saying, ‘Come on guys lets move to the 21st century and start seeing things with new eyes’. It’s not to be disrespectful,” he says.
Indeed, despite seeking to evolve Italian food, Mr Bottura has always respected his roots. This is something, he says, that is crucial for any contemporary Italian chef. He thinks that parmigiano reggiano – the granular cheese unique to Emilia-Romagna – is “the most valuable ingredient.” He talks lovingly about the philosophy of Italian food – the “slow passages of time in the ageing process. The secret of the food valley where I live.” And, above all, he loves Modena. “There is a script from the 13th century called The Decameron, by Giovanni Boccaccio. He came from Florence to Modena and he wrote about it as this amazing place with beautiful women sitting on mountains of grated cheese making pasta 24 hours a day. That’s Modena! It’s the secret of life. And it hasn’t changed in 700 years.”
To find out more, watch our film, above, where Mr Bottura cooks us his signature dish, Five Different Ages Of Parmigiano Reggiano In Five Different Textures And Temperatures, relaxes in his house, and meets up with local artist and friend Mr Giuliano Della Casa.
Film by Mr Jacopo Maria Cinti