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The famous chef tells about cheese, his dishes and the purpose of life

Massimo Bottura is a food artist

Massimo Bottura's dished are simple and complex at the same time. This is a symphony of taste, like impressionist painting. He has already achieved all heights and ranks in his business: the three Michelin stars, and the highest ratings of Gambero Rosso. Last year his restaurant, Ostreria Francescana, was the best restaurant in the world, ranking first in the most prestigious international ranking of The World's 50 best restaurants.

 First I saw him at the World EXPO-2015 in Milan, but only now, at the cheeses auction of Sapori di Malga, in the Italian mountain region of Trentino, in Caldes Castle, I managed to look at him and talk heart to heart.

- I read that you started with the sale of petroleum products and studied at the Faculty of Law. What made you radically change your life in your youth?

- Oh, yes, I was the son of an oilman. Distilled kerosene (laughs). But passion led me to another shore. When you have a goal in life, and this goal is not money ... In life everyone wants different things: some to earn good money, and others to spend it well. My passion was music, modern art and cuisine. I adore these three things. Why? Probably because I grew up near my mother, not my father. My mother, a domestic woman, a professor, loved art, music and cooked wonderfully. So I absorbed this love every day. And now, when a moment comes in life, when you have to choose your path, happiness plays a role here. Happiness, which you experience, doing your own thing, and not what you are forced to do. The work of the cook is not to fill the stomach, but to transform your positive emotions and turn them into the joy of the client.

- So some dishes of your cuisine resemble paintings?

- Yes, I have dishes inspired by artists. But there are absolutely unexpected. For example, once in our restaurant one employee, Takahiko Kondo, dropped a lemon pie with cream, and so one of my desserts was born - "Oops! I dropped the lemon pie. " After all, there is music in falls, mistakes and failures, the meaning of life.

Dishes Five ages of Parmigiano (left) and Oops! I dropped the lemon tart (right)

Dishes Five ages of Parmigiano (left) and Oops! I dropped the lemon tart (right), photo ©

- You learned a lot from different masters. Your cuisine includes both - traditions of Italian cuisine and your innovations, a new vision of classic Italian dishes. How your innovations in Italy are accepted?

- Yes, I studied a lot, more than thirty years. I learned a lot of gastronomic techniques, but I still continue to study. All the techniques I carry through the prism of my experience and Italian centuries-old culinary traditions. And probably, a lot of skills that I have not used before, I can apply in the future. A modern cook should know everything in order to be able to forget everything. Yes, Italy is very conservative in food, but it is laid down by age-old traditions. I try to give emotions to the food, give it the colors of fine Italy. You try the dish, and you have, for example, the image of these beautiful mountains and meadows. I can experiment, but the two main pillars remain - the food should be, first of all, tasty and well-cooked, and secondly, healthy and useful.

- We are here in the realm of cheeses, let's talk about cheese, what does it mean for you?

- My grandmother's brother had two cheese dairies, so I was born and raised among cows, milk and cheese of Parmigiano Reggiano. I started to peer at the cheeses, and make them, using the experience of the my co-worker Alessandro's father, who was a cheese maker. He chose the necessary cheeses that could be experimented with. And so one of my dishes was born: "Five ages of Parmesan", which were initially 3, then it became 4 (I added ice cream), then I removed the ice cream, added foam, and then added the fifth element, air, or more precisely, fog.

At the cheese auction Sapori di Malga of the Italian mountain region of Trentino

At the cheese auction Sapori di Malga of the Italian mountain region of Trentino, photo © Evgeny Utkin

- The fog?

- Yes, we had a project with NASA. To reduce the depression of astronauts, we launched them into the air different food smells, like pizza and others. And I launched parmesan. In general, for me it would be great to run a huge air freshener, with the taste of Parmesan, on the motorway between Reggio and Modena (laughs), so people would immediately realize that they are in Emilia-Romagna (the region where he was born and works Botthura).

- Try local Trentino cheeses, do you plan to add one or two elements of these cheeses to your dish in the future?

- No, this is not an exercise for a technique, it's conceptual. I wanted to choose one element, Parmesan, and with the help of it wanted to show the flow of time, the flow of life. I chose cheeses of different aging. My cheese maker told me that it is the 24-month-old cheese that transforms lactose into proteins, and even those who are allergic to lactose can eat it. And I asked my cheese maker: "Why then do not sell only cheeses from 24 months and older?" "We just want to receive money 6 months earlier", he replied. With this dish I wanted to show life in motion, as time flows, but, I'm not an artist, not a sculptor, not a musician, I'm a cook. I want to show my land so that it can be tried, tasted.

While we talked, someone brought a few cheeses on the test, which we wash down with a sparkling Ferrari. "It's amazing," exclaims Massimo, trying low-fat three-year-old cheese, "it has a few aftertaste, herbs, and now I feel the taste of beer!" It is evident that he likes it. "And, of course, you need to make cheese from raw milk. Raw milk has such properties that pasteurized milk does not possess, and reflects immediately what the cow ate. With raw milk it is more difficult to work. Raw milk is the truth. "

Massimo Botura and Evgeny Utkin

Massimo Botura and Evgeny Utkin, photo © Evgeny Utkin

- Do you use only local products?

- Local products, the so-called "0-km", I always have in my head. For a good restaurant it is very important to have a number of good farmers. But for me other regions of Italy also are important, such as Sicily and Piedmont. Where I get food from, because I feel them "inside of myself." Everyone who goes to Modena, go to try Parmesan, balsamic vinegar, tortellini. Tourists in Italy are going to try the territory. Enogastronomical tourism (a new philosophy of traveling in search of uncharted tastes and authentic culinary traditions, ed.) is very developed in Italy. And it is the peasants, the farmers, that allow to preserve the present gastronomic values in Italy.

- How do you feel about Russian cuisine, do you often visit Russia?

- Yes, I am well known in Russia, and I am well acquainted with some Russian chefs. I conducted master classes and lectured in Russia. And now on September 27 I will speak in Moscow in front of a hundred journalists.

- What would you say to the young people who enter the work life?

- It is important to find your goal in life and give it 100%, every second, whether you are an artist, poet, cook or manager. To be the one whom you chose - then the real success will come to you .

Evgeny Utkin, Italy, Caldes, Trento