Volume 48, Number 2
Is there room for creativity in an industry dominated by bottom-line strategies? According to Massimo Bottura, chef/restaurateur of the three Michelin-star Osteria Francescana in Modena, Italy, the answer is a resounding, yes.
Last month, as Canadians struggled with winter mayhem, Toronto’s culinary landscape shone brightly with Bottura’s arrival. The revered chef’s visit coincided with the Culinary Cities of the World festivities at George Brown College (GBC), marking the culinary school’s 10th anniversary of its affiliation with the Italy-based Alma School.
During the four-day whirlwind tour, the 52-year-old chef met with the city’s food community, taking part in various activities, including a cooking demonstration for students, a Q&A staged before a live audience and cooking as a featured chef at a fundraising dinner for GBC at Buca Restaurant. Along the way, he inspired those he met with his creativity, his innovation and his charm, giving everyone a taste of creative genius.
Bottura is the second Michelin-star chef to visit Toronto in the last six months (France’s Alain Ducasse was the first), creating excitement that was palpable throughout the city’s food community. It proves good food has the power to draw people together as well as be a creative force in our lives, whether we work in the industry or not.
In my interview with the celebrated chef (see story on p. 44), he touched on the importance of passion fuelling innovation and of being steadfast and true to your creative convictions. They’re life lessons whether you run a Michelin-star restaurant or a media operation — lessons that are often obliterated in a fast-paced world where sometimes the minutiae of everyday life makes us robotic.
For Bottura, who is heavily influenced by everything around him, including art, cars and fashion, food remains an expression of his milieu. When asked why art influences him so deeply, he said, “I’m crazy about contemporary art, because contemporary artists are always an expression of the time they’re living, but they’re always understood later.” He recalled that when he created his avant-garde Five Stages of Parmiggiano Reggiano dish, he too was misunderstood. “In the beginning everyone was laughing, pointing their fingers at me saying I was ruining the tradition of Parmigiano Reggiano, ruining the cheese and ruining the work of these artisans. They didn’t understand what I was doing. Years later, in 2011, they declared it the dish of the decade. It’s a message for young chefs. If you have the right idea, if you have a smart idea, just keep going. Don’t leave the theatre before you are recognized.”
As Bottura told an audience of aspiring chefs and food aficionados at George Brown, “Leave space open for poetry; you will otherwise get lost in your life,” he warned. “You need to leave the door open for the unexpected. Make it visible through your vision.” Spoken like a true three-star Michelin chef.