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Massimo Bottura is one of Italy's most formidable chefs, he runs the 3-Michelin starred Osteria Francescana restaurant in Modena and sits at number 3 on the World's 50 Best Restaurants list.
He has become a driver for change throughout Italian gastronomy, a chef who is happy to go against tradition, respecting history but helping form and mold the lines of contemporary Italian cuisine, defining it as: "the expression of the present but a recognition of the future - this is contemporary cuisine."
Five Ages of Parmigiano Reggiano in Different Textures and Temperatures, photo by Paolo Terzi.
It's not always been easy for the avant garde chef, as he explained to FDL: "It has been so hard because everyone was fighting against what I was doing. People don't want to hear about tradition in evolution - meaning taking care of tradition but always analyzing. If I feel there is something wrong I'm going to change the recipe, to bring it into the future. Why do I have boil the meat in water to create bollito misto (a classic Italian stew) to create something the same as 1000-years-ago? No, I'm not doing that. What I do at Osteria is to look at the past, not in a nostalgic way but a critical way, to bring the best from my past into the future."
Bottura made this stance a long time ago and has fought against negative opinions that centered on his cuisine. He stood strong, did things in his own way and now he feels it's finally starting to pay off. "I think in Italian gastronomy right now there is a very important group of chefs who believe and trust in territory - in artisans, cheese makers, farmers, fishermen - people who supply us with incredible primary ingredients like never before.''
"We are in a very good moment - in a moment where you can feel the energy - you can feel that we want to share with each other and we are finally projecting ourself into the future."
He looks wide eyed as he speaks, excited at the prospect of a new future for Italian gastronomy. After all, it's what he's been pushing for over 10-years and he wants the young chefs to remember some important things: "Guys, remember, don't always trust the people who are pushing you, stay in the kitchen and work very hard, 10% is talent but the rest is to work hard every day. The secret is this, look in the mirror in the morning and say: 'I want to go in the kitchen.' You have to believe in what you do and in your ideas because if they're great ideas they're going to be recognized in the future - contemporary is like this.''
"I would love to imagine the chef of the future going into the kitchen with their hands dirty and smelling of milk. Understanding how difficult it is to grow the perfect carrot or to create the perfect Parmigiano Reggiano, that to make traditional balsamic vinegar you have to wait 25-30 years before tasting.''
Photo by Elliot Erwitt
"It's now changing. You know the Japanese were studying Parmigiano Reggiano a hundred years ago as the perfect umami, the perfect match between sweet, savory, bitter and acid - that's the things that we must remember to preserve, rebuilding the traditions we had in the past and bringing them back in a different way. Expressing a Millennium of flavors that have been distilled through all these centuries."
And where does one of Italy's best chefs like to eat?
"I would say so many, these guys are all amazing, I believe in sharing and these are the people that I really like."
"My favourite places are the ones of my friends. I enjoy eating at these places just as much as at my mum's because food here has a different value and gets emotional."
Massimiliano Alajmo (Le Calandre restaurant)
Heinz Beck (Roma Cavalieri restaurant)
Moreno Cedroni (La Madonnina del Pescatore restaurant)
Enrico Cerea (Da Vittorio restaurant)
Gennaro Esposito (La Torre del Saracino restaurant)
Norbert Niederkofler (St. Hubertus restaurant)
Giancarlo Perbellini (Perbellini restaurant)
Niko Romito (Casa Donna restaurant)
Davide Scabin (Combal.Zero restaurant)
Ciccio Sultano (Duomo restaurant)
Mauro Uliassi (Uliassi restaurant)
Enrico Crippa (Piazza Duomo restaurant)
Nadia Santini (Dal Pescatore restaurant)
Paolo Lo Priore (Il Canto restaurant)
Carlo Cracco (Cracco restaurant)
Luigi Taglienti (Trussardi alla Scala restaurant)
Piergiorgio Parini (Povero Diavolo restaurant)
Antonino Canavacciuolo (Villa Crespi restaurant)
Pino Cuttaia (La Madia restaurant)
Aimo e Nadia (Aimo e Nadia restaurant).
Editor Note: This article has been updated with further restaurants added to the list.