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Massimo Bottura: Veggie Food for Thought

With a menu that reads like a list of exhibits at an art gallery and dishes that looks like they belong there, it's little wonder then that his restaurant, Osteria Francescana, was recently ranked as the second best in the world.
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Image courtesy of Osteria Francescana

A conversation with Massimo Bottura is like watching a painting come to life. The eccentric and much renowned chef has a very unconventional approach to both life and food. He was on the path to becoming a lawyer but chose to pursue his passion as a chef instead, allowing his creativity to flourish. With a menu that reads like a list of exhibits at an art gallery and dishes that looks like they belong there, it's little wonder then that his restaurant, Osteria Francescana, was recently ranked as the second best in the world.

I interviewed Chef Bottura prior to enjoying a wonderful dinner at his restaurant, and explored the creative and ingenious mind of the master chef through a vegetarian perspective.

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Image courtesy of Osteria Francescana

"I don't discriminate between vegetarian and non-vegetarian food," said the genial chef. "When I have something in my hands, whether it be asparagus, red beet, buffalo mozzarella, or duck, I talk to it, caress it and try to understand it, and create something as a result." He went on to point out that his wife always cooks vegetarian food at home, and that one of his most acclaimed dishes, Five Different Ages of Parmesan in Five Different Textures and Temperatures, is a vegetarian dish.

Each dish at Osteria Francescana is famous for having a story of some sort behind it. According to Chef Bottura, it's all about creating a unique experience. "We are not cooking just to create good food. You are not coming here all the way from Dubai to eat good food. You are coming for a cultural experience." As an example, he talked about his favorite dish, Polenta and Rice Served as a Pizza. The dish is made by cooking risotto in fresh mozzarella milk, spread on top of a base of concentrated tomato. Dehydrated polenta is placed around this to create the effect of a pizza 'crust'. According to Chef Bottura, "the risotto is the expression of the South as polenta is the expression of the North. When North travels South and starts to experience all the flavors, they fall in love. So this dish is about love and looking deeper into things rather than just focusing on your pre-conceived notions and being superficial."

It's not just the food that's deep, however. When asked about food wastage, the chef mentioned an idea that had been proposed for the Expo 2015, being held in Milan. The theme of the Expo is 'Feed the Planet', so an old auditorium was renovated and some of the world's best chefs were invited to come and cook for the needy using food that would otherwise be wasted. The idea has already proven to be a huge success, even getting the notice of the White House.

Chef Massimo Bottura is an artist who literally 'makes thoughts edible' and a visionary with a lot of food for thought. He's also an avid traveler whose favorite country is 'the next one', as there's always something to learn. In the words of the chef himself, "It is important to always live in the now and to take in as much as we can from each moment."

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