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By Gary Duff | December 13, 2017 | People
Massimo Bottura, one of the world's greatest chefs, chatted with us about his work with GR8 and God's Love We Deliver on the eve of a special dinner at Ellis Island hosted by actor Chazz Palminteri.
Known for his creative approach to food and exceptional dishes at Osteria Francescana in Modena, Italy, chef Massimo Bottura has blazed a trail in the food world by pushing the industry's boundaries again and again. His latest project, a dinner inspired by immigrants at Ellis Island, is raising funds for God's Love We Deliver, with help from his special partner GR8, a luxury service that helps curate dream experiences.
First off, what drew you to your partnership with GR8 and God's Love We Deliver?
MB: You know, culture, knowledge, consciousness, and a sense of responsibility are the four things I always use to explain what I’m doing in my life. Osteria Francescana is a laboratory of ideas. We create culture, we develop knowledge, we train young chefs, and we create gastronomic tourism that is extremely important right now in the world. We open people's consciousness. It’s part of what we do. We started acting like a grandmother a long time ago because there are 60 people working in our kitchen, serving 30 people every lunch and dinner. We have to serve 120 meals for the staff and for 60 guests who come from all over the world. Because of that we have to be very conscious of food waste and the problems it causes. But once you have culture, a sense of responsibility forms, and becomes a part of what you do because you have a very open mind and you see what's happening around you. In my position, I've received nearly every single prize you can imagine in the world, there is a point in which you have to give back something and use your spotlight to focus on many more important issues. Whether you're number one, number two, or number three in the world, it doesn’t mean anything if you don’t give back.
You're one of the most-in-demand chefs in the world. How do you choose what you lend your name to?
MB: I just want to think about what project it is. Who are the people involved? I want to know everyone before everything else. We have, right now, I have the privilege to choose to spend time with the people I think deserve it. I am a Brand Ambassador for Gucci, for Maserati, very, very important Italian companies. They believe in my philosophy and what I do. What they do is very similar. They look at the past, as I do, in a very critical way, not in a nostalgic one, but to get the best from the past and reinvent it for the future. I say no sometimes because there are projects that don’t have anything to do with me. I don’t care about the money in my life. I care about other things. It doesn’t matter or mean anything to me to have a new apartment or car, to change this or some new jewelry. It doesn’t mean anything. To me, the important things are others. There are so many people that talk, talk, and talk so much. There are so few people that really act. This is what I love about this project.
How do you keep your passion for food alive?
MB: It’s not that all the ideas come from the kitchen. That’s why I get upset when people say, “Why are you not in the kitchen?” I answer, “Do you want me to chop carrots and celery again, and again, and again for another 35 years?” I can cook with my mind and be much more helpful outside the kitchen. Creativity is creativity. I can walk into the subway or through Central Park, the streets of New York, or Modena and be much more creative. One of my best places is actually in an airplane traveling from one place to another, or at a movie theater. The more stupid the movie, the better it is for me. I can imagine and start thinking, not about the movie, but get lost within it and think about my stuff. Lara, my wife, tells me to always remind journalists when they ask this question, that after a bad movie I once told her, “You know, I was thinking about disappearing mozzarella into a caprese, and tomato, mozzarella, and basil, but without mozzarella, everything light.” And she said, “You were thinking about that during the movie?” And I said, “Yes.”
I've interviewed rockstars about their favorite bands and some tell me the Rolling Stones or Led Zeppelin. For you, the rockstar is who? Who is the greatest when you think about what you do?
MB: I think one of the most important people to chefs, but who was not a chef, is a man named Pellegrino Artusi. If you look at the New York Times, they asked me recently, “What's something that there is no prize for? Something you’re never going to be able to buy?” I said, “The Artusi book.” It was published in 1870. I have the first edition, but the second edition, that my grandmother left to my mom, and my mom left to me, with all my mother’s notes of how she changed its recipe, is part of my new book that just came out, Bread is Gold. It’s about notes, changing recipes, and modifying them. It’s all about something that Italian cuisine has built. The nobles and family, they have a very distant history from the people. But Artusi was focusing on the popular recipes that are very important to Italian cuisine. We are people. We are artists. We are sailors. We are engineers. We are poets. This is Italy! We can create an amazing recipe with some breadcrumbs, a little bit of leftovers from anchovies. We’re going to create the most amazing pasta you’ll ever taste. Pellegrino Artusi is one of the most important people in Italian cuisine, the same way Gualtiero Marchesi was in the 70s, who really brought this kind of cuisine into a three-star Michelin restaurant. He was the first one in the 70s.
Photography courtesy Massimo Bottura