Words by Massimo Bottura
Italy is a country in which culinary identities are formed at a young age. It was absolutely necessary for me to take a step back in order to move forward. A little irreverence, self-mockery and irony helped me find the critical distance I needed to see things from another point of view. While visiting friends in Los Angeles during the summer of 2001, I saw a framed plaque in their kitchen. It read: ‘Never trust a skinny Italian chef’.
I wondered: ‘Will I ever be trusted to bring the Italian kitchen into the twenty-first century?’
Tradition in Evolution
There are three things that cannot be tampered with in Italy: football, the Pope and your grandmother’s recipes. Nevertheless, in the kitchens of Osteria Francescana we pry, poke and question the authority of our culinary traditions. We take a step back, then come in closer, and make enquiries about texture, flavor and form. We see ingredients and recipes at a distance and through a magnifying glass, we throw out the recipe and start from scratch. Most importantly of all, we never stop questioning.
Some recipes focus on ingredients, such as Five Ages of Parmigiano Reggiano, and some, like Tagliatelle with Ragù, work with time-worn traditions, honoring, revising and reviving them. Some, like Osso Buco or Cappuccino, attempt to reinvent the wheel by breaking all the rules.
All the recipes address our culinary heritage with a degree of separation and with the best intentions. After all, we hope that they too will be passed down from generation to generation.
If traditions are put under glass, they stagnate. It is hard to stay one step ahead of nostalgia, but it is important to find that critical distance, to keep moving forward even when you are looking back. The Italian kitchen offers many opportunities to repeat our grandmothers’ recipes, but far too few to unleash them. Tradition in Evolution is the cornerstone of Osteria Francescana and the underlying premise of everything we do. But we did not find it; it found us. As we questioned, cooked and shared ideas, the concept grew around us like the roots of a tree. I used to think the words tradition and evolution contradicted one another; now I see that they are two sides of the same identity.