If we are What we Eat, Who Are we When we Eat Poorly?
Massimo Bottura is the chef patron of Osteria Francescana, a three-Michelin-star restaurant that opened in 1995 in in Modena, Italy, which was ranked #1 in the World’s Best in 2016 and #3 in the last two years. The avant-garde restaurant is famous for its exquisite menu and months-long waiting lists.
Osteria Francescana is now back to #1 on the World’s 50 best Restaurants list. Its signature dishes blend simplicity and innovation. Bottura is celebrated worldwide for communicating personal, cultural and political stories through his dishes while questioning traditions in Italian cooking.
He tears recipes apart and re-builds them into something new. He says his aim is to reinvent the Italian cuisine of the future. Only few can afford the direct experience – twelve tables in the restaurant. I was fortunate to eat there a few years ago, in my hometown. Delicious!
“Our kitchen is not a list of ingredients or demonstration of technical abilities,” says Bottura. “It is a narration of the Italian landscape and our passions. Cooking is a collision of ideas, techniques, and cultures. It is not mathematical. It is emotional.”
Getting back to basics
The idea of getting back to basics and trying new combinations is not new. Entire generations of Italians had to make do with what they had available. Take a look at traditional recipes in any region and you find the same simple ingredients in many creative combinations.
Soups are a perfect example of this idea. You just don’t spoil excess food, especially vegetables. This is the concept behind Refettorio Ambrosiano. It’s a soup kitchen that uses excess food from supermarkets and local suppliers to provide healthy, seasonal meals for people in need. The Milan Expo in 2015 was the perfect time to open the doors.
Like our grandmothers, Bottura says Bread is Gold, “Il Pane e’ Oro.” The book’s core idea is you can make do with what food is on hand to create delightful meals. Many of the best world chefs contributed to the cause – its proceeds benefit the kitchens. But it may prove challenging for the average person to find the food in their pantry. Most of us don’t run supermarkets or restaurants.
Use what you have
Bottura and American wife Lara Gilmore have been promoting the book with a precise purpose – to change the way we nourish the world, not just feed it. To do that, he says, we must first fight food waste. Bottura reinvents how we eat to redefine “eating poorly” for a world of abundance.
“A recipe, after all, is a solution to a problem,” he says. The problem is not just eating, but nourishing. Refettorio in Latin means “to rebuild” or “restore.” Roman chef Cristina Bowerman says abundance spoils us and blocks our creative process. She also notes that, “By having too much, we risk forgetting one of the most important elements: simplicity.”
Simplicity is at the core of the Mediterranean diet people eat at home every day – filled with fresh, in season, fruit and vegetables prepared. The main ingredients people use to prepare foods vary in each region of Italy, based on climate and geography. But extra virgin olive oil is a staple of Italian kitchens.
My great-grandmother lived to 100 through the famine of two world wars, and the abundance that ensued later. Her recipe was to keep it simple — eat a little bit of everything but not all together, eat slowly, and when you’re eating, just eat.
Slow eating = high enjoyment + healthy living
Multitasking on something else that requires active participation, like reading or watching TV, distract us from enjoying the textures and flavors of what we’re eating – we also take bigger bites, chew less, hold our breath, and fast forward instead of enjoying the meal.
In 1986, Carlo Petrini founded slow food as a reaction to fast food. The movement’s goal was to “promote the use of fresh local foods, grown with sustainable farming techniques, prepared with love, and consumed in a leisurely manner in the company of good friends and family.”
Petrini and others soon realized food was just one aspect of life and the philosophy could transfer to other activities like traveling and learning that could also benefit from this type of attention and nurturing, focusing on quality over quantity.
Italy’s economy is struggling, but it has the healthiest people in the world, “Italians are in way better shape than Americans, Canadians and Brits, who all suffer from higher blood pressure and cholesterol and poorer mental health.”
Proper nutrition is the philosophy that guides us in the choices we make for our diet, or what we consume, eating and drinking sparingly the right kind of food – fresh, in season, and local – to grow properly and be healthy.
But it would be a mistake to think that it’s just the food that makes a difference. The whole environment contributes – how we eat, lifestyle choices, and social cohesion all contribute to our sense of well-being.
- Don’t waste anything, “non sprecare niente”
- Reimagine leftovers, “utilizza gli avanzi”
- Eat slowly, “mangia piano”