Massimo Bottura's new menu: "Enough mannerism, I want to feed you with emotions"

It will be for the kitchen that shines like the steel heart of large ships, it will be for the order that reigns supreme and for the industrious silence of the young people intent at work, it will be my passion for the sea, but when I return to the Franciscan kitchen, I seem to penetrate the dashboard of a flagship. And to break the spell, he, the Admiral, thinks about it the moment he calls the crew to put his hand to the dishes – he ‘commands’ it – and the immediate answer is a sharp cry: “March!”. Massimo Botturaescorted by the brave Beppe Palmieri, companion of a thousand adventures, he enters almost with a soft step: “Look around, old friend, a fly doesn’t fly, you just hear the noise of the aspirators”, which reminds me of that low and reassuring hum that often accompanies navigation. It is time to move two steps further into the ‘sancta sanctorum’, a table gathered among the best wines in the world, the corner where we celebrate the new menu of the house in secular fashion.

Massimo Bottura

Massimo Bottura

Beyond the excellent physical shape, I find a Bottura as perky as it is political, who grew up without losing a shred of energy and vitality, worried about the need to push for recovery, to put an end to the exaggerated mannerism that envelops high gastronomy, and anxious to help break down limits and borders . It is an inclination that he has always cultivated and since he has won every possible world championship he feels he has to accelerate. It is comforting to point out that a similar awareness, having become the protagonist of a philanthropic peace action with the creation of Refectories where to feed quality food to the disadvantaged in many cities – “the next will be in Bethlehem” -, being recognized by ‘UN as Ambassador of Good Will, well, nothing of such commitments reduces its strength in the Modena headquarters. For years he has worked on travels (I am thinking of Mario Soldati), on routes (the history of the great tables retraced through the most important dishes of the last decades), and with extreme clarity he changes gear, he says that for him this is the age of maturity serena: “I run the marathon of life, not the 100 meters”.

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But anyone who thought Bottura gave up would be wrong. Not only does it not give up an inch, but on the contrary it raises a new path. Years ago he remembered the time when hidden under the table at home he stole and nibbled the charred corners of freshly baked lasagna. Today he takes up the theme of conscious ingenuity and in the last menu – “Come to Italy with me” – changes perspective: “Upside Down. Today I look at the world upside down, with the eyes of a child ”. “Guido, with the pandemic we lacked time. But we recovered it and – always stimulating the team culturally – we went from 105 to 150 people, what a group. After the depression, we fly towards the future bringing everyone together with us to get to know this fantastic country of ours ”.

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A challenging programmatic statement. A manifesto. “Why do I praise the baby? Because I want to feed you with emotions. Enough with the mannerism that corrupts haute cuisine! Let’s overturn commonplaces and free Italianness from the stereotypes that afflict us “. With his passionate style, Bottura is a river in flood: “You know that I always fight to build bridges, to replace the letter O with the letter E. Well, this we must do, work with the imagination and with poetic license, breaking down the barriers “.

Seafood salad (Photo credits: Paolo Terzi)

Seafood salad (Photo credits: Paolo Terzi)

So let’s see the Copernican revolution at the table made in Modena. A revolution that involves both the construction of what was once called the food list and the composition and combinations of ingredients. “If the challenge is to tell the world about Italy directly, we must be as credible as possible”. So as soon as you sit down, three symbolic bites arrive: panzanella, cous cous and babà. But the real departure is with the panettone “to eat even in August”, lentils and cotechino instead of candied fruit. Simple and lustful (I eat two). “You will see that the new dishes represent an exercise in sharing”: the ‘Sea salad’, served in an oyster, brings together the distillate of mussels and clams, to which it entrusts the task of cradling a vegetable mixed salad. And in the same way, those that appear as four anchovy fillets rest on a base of piadina, rocket and squacquerone (from Cetara to Emilia Romagna). Yet the challenge of which Bottura is very proud is played on the meeting of Teano. In the name of the unification of Italy, the ‘risotto like an eggplant parmigiana’: “Enough with the North-South controversy. Here, on the plate I put Vittorio Emanuele II and Garibaldi face to face: the first brings the rice from Piedmont and the other comes with the Parmigiana. A peace summit without which we would not be “.

The game of intersections and the exchange of roles become even more evident in the ‘Porchetta di rombo’ or rather the turbot that wants to become porchetta: under a crispy blanket of spelled, the fish is rolled to protect a porchetta: perhaps the pig is disoriented, we are not. Certainly thanks to the careful alcoholic care reserved by Beppe Palmieri, from Moscato d’Asti to soak the panettone up to the lemons of Massa Lubrense (Guida family), passing through a cross-section of wines that are impeccable in describing the regional richness and variety: it is impossible not to to cite Cristiana Tiberio’s Trebbiano, Federico Graziani’s Nerello Mascalese, Damijan Podversic’s Friulano, Garrone’s Nebbiolo (“Val d’Ossola will become paradise”) and Marco Sara’s Picolit. The reference to green is constant, and explodes first in the ‘Fiorentina’, collected with its fifth-quarter sauce inside the vegetables that are usually reduced to the rank of supporting characters, and then in the ‘Think Green’, a joyful hymn to earthly acidity , called to temper the firepower of the flesh. However, where lust takes on absolute purity, capable of overwhelming and enlightening even the most skeptical, it is ‘Almost a spaghetti with tomato sauce’, a name that pretends modesty while in two forkfuls it collects the essence of homeland. A new flavor, a happy invention of an almost alchemical formula, called to put together Piedmontese red peppers, Modena black cherry, Campania basil, Noto almonds (grated like Parmesan) and Pantelleria capers, in Bottura’s magic blender. It looks like spaghetti with tomato sauce, but it’s not. It makes me think of the betrayal of the surrealists’ images, ‘Ceci n’est pas une pipe’ by Magritte, even if the chef often refers to Alighiero Boetti and Picasso: “So I break with stereotypes and become freer!”.

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Reversal of identities and habits without rest. Macaron, cannoli and chocolate arrive, classic treats at the end of the meal. But the first is Venetian-style liver, the second carbonara-style and the third stuffed from the garden of Casa Maria Luigia (the beautiful country resort, spin off of Francescana). The boys who alternate softly around the table seem to be serving a fruit / vegetable that resembles tomatoes. And a tomato is at first glance, but when you open it and taste it you discover that it is an ingenious reconstruction of red fruits, a lying casket that protects a heart of tomato, provolone and buffalo water. The chef laughs at my surprise: it’s’ Oops! I forgot the Caprese ‘. Who does not forget my Scottish weaknesses is Beppe Palmieri. With a finger of Speyside served in a slightly moist tumblerino. “Every ending is a new beginning”. To our my friends!

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