You’d think that running one of the world’s best restaurants would keep Massimo Bottura busy. But the lauded chef has a lot more on his plate than his groundbreaking Osteria Francescana in Modena.
He and his wife, Lara Gilmore, opened an exclusive 12-room B&B in the Modena countryside in May and recently launched a must-have dining experience there (more on that below). They also work on Food for Soul, a nonprofit the couple founded in 2016 that aims to fight food waste.
Plus, the Italian chef will journey to Miami Beach on December 1 to cook up a once-in-a-lifetime dinner at Once Upon a Kitchen, an epicurean extravaganza from the Gr8 Group that also will feature dishes from renowned chefs Alex Atala, Mauro Colagreco and Antonio Bachour.
Bottura previously gave us his tips on where to shop, dine, see art and more in his hometown of Modena. Below, he shares where he finds the “poetry of life,” what to expect at his new B&B and a secret way to taste food from his famed restaurant.
What made you decide to open Casa Maria Luigia?
It was not in the master plan. Actually, it just happened. At first, we were looking for a house in the country to plant a garden and have a weekend destination for family and friends.
As we began renovations in the summer of 2017 , we realized that we really wanted to share all that beauty with guests who visit Modena from all over the world. We wanted them to live a true Emilian experience and discover the landscape, the flavors and the feeling of the area.
Casa Maria Luigia is an immersive experience into our passions — art, design, food. We are doing our best to share these with our guests in a welcoming space that reflects everything the Emilian countryside has to offer.
We don’t really consider the space a luxury property in the classic sense of the word — there are no butlers or turndown service, no telephones in the rooms nor room service — but there is a true sense of home away from home with an open kitchen stocked with fresh treats for guests to serve themselves, delicious wines to pour and plenty of lovely places to sit down and enjoy the landscape and the cozy interior spaces.
For Lara and I, this is the best kind of luxury experience we could offer. We like to imagine that guests forget that they are in a hotel and feel like they are staying with friends.
What can guests expect there?
They can expect to find a cozy home away from home, where the day begins with the smell of the outdoor wood-burning oven baking focaccia, frittata and cotechino sausage. A hearty Emilian breakfast is served in a turn-of-the-century Carriage House transformed into a stunning dining room with an open kitchen, contemporary artworks and views of the surrounding countryside.
They are then free to explore the garden, with its secular trees and beautiful pond, or roam around the vegetable garden, where we grow our own vegetables, season after season.
They can also choose to swim in the outside pool or have a tennis match, or just relax indoors in our vinyl room with over 7,000 records. Art is everywhere, and our guests are free to ask the team about each piece. Throughout the day and into the cocktail hour, the green kitchen in the main house is open to guests for seasonal salads and light savory and sweet snacks prepared daily by the culinary staff as well as a selection of beverages, alcoholic and non, in addition to coffee and tea.
In the evenings, the Carriage House comes to life with the newest dining experience Francescana at Maria Luigia. Three communal tables welcome guests to share an intimate and once-in-a-lifetime experience with a nine-course Osteria Francescana tasting menu with signature dishes from our Modenese restaurant. Expect an overwhelming taste of the Emilian dolce vita!
What does hospitality mean to you?
Hospitality means sharing the best that we can offer to our guests. Running a restaurant made us conscious of the fact that we really want our guests to feel part of something. We want to share our world, our vision, our emotions while they are eating, glimpsing at the artworks or interacting with our team.
Osteria Francescana is not only a restaurant in Modena — it is our way to see the world and the experience we want to share. Every project we run, from Food for Soul to Gucci Osteria [in Florence], Torno Subito [in Dubai] to Casa Maria Luigia, is a different expression of our creativity and approach, but yet they reflect the same vision of sharing beauty, high-quality ideas and welcoming experiences.
Casa Maria Luigia is our latest project. It’s a step forward — we wanted to share a house, a whole-day experience, for our guests to get to know our passions and to immerse themselves in them. There, you can recognize what we have learned from 30 years of running restaurants, but also what we are [doing] with Food for Soul. Human connection is what makes the difference.
You constantly push Italian food to the avant-garde. Where do you find inspiration?
I take inspiration from everything I see and experience around me. I make obvious as well as unconventional connections, sometimes abstract and other times concrete. I love metaphors and look for them constantly. I am searching for truths that often cannot be proved or explained. They are flavorful truths, combinations that work, textures that envelop and stimulate the palate, the emotions and the mind. When we cook we are not feeding empty bellies, but feeding the eager mind.
Creativity happens at the most unexpected moments. You have to be ready to catch the flash in the dark because it only passes once.
For example, I’m really passionate about jazz music and contemporary art. I listen to jazz when I want to get lost in the improvisation, and I look for art as a point of reflection.
The artist’s thoughts are often an inspiration to me and to the kitchen. Through the artist’s eyes you can see the world in a magical way, not the everyday life but the poetry of life. This is very important to keep in mind when working in a kitchen. It’s easy to get lost in the everyday tasks, and art reminds us to keep a door open for poetry. When the right time comes, if that door is open, you can jump through it into a parallel universe where even the most mundane object turns to gold.
You started Food for Soul, a nonprofit that looks to fight food waste. What are some steps that everyone can take to avoid food waste?
Everyone can have an impact. Change starts in our homes. It’s important to use ingredients in their wholeness, also the ones that are considered imperfect, and to take the best of each ingredient from each stage of their lifespan. Be it unripe or overmature, there’s always a way to use them.
Choose local ingredients and support local producers, avoid waste in any form. Sharing and caring are practices everyone can adopt in their everyday lives, with their loved ones or their community.
You are heading to Miami in December to cook at Once Upon a Kitchen. What are your favorite things to do in in the city?
Miami is such a great town and I have lots of friends. I love to meet up with chef Diego Oka, head chef at La Mar [at Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star Mandarin Oriental, Miami], and see what’s new on the menu or stop by chef Carlos Garcia’s new restaurant Obra Kitchen.
Besides eating, I love walking around the Design District and visiting contemporary art galleries. Miami also offers so many interesting art museums that it is hard to see them all.
Of course, a walk on the beach is a must, especially early in the morning when it is so peaceful.
What’s next for you?
We recently opened the dining experience at Casa Maria Luigia and for us it’s all about food connecting people who don’t know each other. When I am at Francescana at Maria Luigia, I see the beauty of sharing a meal together. I witness the power that food has to connect people and prompt ideas, thoughts, emotions. This is the change I want to see, a community unified where people welcome and help each other.
This is part of what we also do at Food for Soul, where our guests are invited to enjoy a meal but also join a community and feel part of something.
We are really looking forward to spreading our model and sharing our vision, to demonstrate that a sustainable future is possible. Right now with Food for Soul, we are focusing on our next openings in America, but we are always looking for the right opportunities and right partners all over the world.