He’s a future-oriented chef, with a strong belief in relationships. She’s an art dealer turned host and champion for sustainable social connections. Together, they are a powerful influence in culture and positive change. They’re changing the conversation on food. From world-famous Osteria Francescana to people-conscious Food for Soul, they bring experience to life.
Based in Modena, Bottura and Gilmore live their work as a simple act of love.
He considers the kitchen a laboratory of ideas where connections are important. As a chef, his sphere of influence include agriculture, culture, tourism, training, and social issues. The chef considers respect for products and the people who make them fundamental.
For Bottura, cooking is an opportunity to tell contemporary stories that sit on centuries of history. But it’s also a simple act of love. From the workshop of the artist that is Osteria Francescana emerge local dishes of Modena and Italy for 12 tables. From the kitchens of Food for Soul Refettorios emerge beauty and dignity for more than 500 people a day.
I condense my passions into edible mouthfuls.Massimo Bottura
In May 2019, Gilmore and Bottura opened a resort that looks like an art gallery. In the Modenese countryside, Casa Maria Luigia combines nature, technology, and poetry. The old coexists with the new, the traditional with the iconoclastic. This homage to Bottura’s mother is a tonic for the soul. A home away from home, as many had the pleasure to experience.
A network of meaning
Food for Soul was a project Bottura created with Lara Gilmore in 2016. The non profit has been fighting food waste from the beginning. 33 percent of the food goes to waste. 7 kitchens around the world (so far) go beyond feeding hundreds of people to reinforcing the importance of making ethical choices.
The Last Supper is most famous Refectory in the world. Commissioned by Ludovico Il Moro to Leonardo da Vinci in 1494, the beautiful tempera fresco is in the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan. Christ and the twelve apostles sharing a meal takes you back to the fraternal agapi, where monks have gathered for centuries to converse and dine.
But Refettorio is also a word that evokes the first experiences of conviviality in childhood. Children experience community lunch next to at the other. Because it’s a break from activities in the middle of the day, to feed and share food, it becomes a moment of joy and complicity.
For millions of destitute and homeless people, the refectory is a community place that saves lives every day. These are environments that come alive at mealtimes. Volunteers serve a hot dish to those who have nothing. The meal connects people, it makes you free and equal. In addition to nourishment, it’s also a moment of confrontation and exchange.
Food for Soul creates opportunities for social mobility while it encourages a healthy and fair food system. The founding idea of re-imagining what is left over extends to the buildings. Refettorios use abandoned or neglected spaces in cities. Their kitchen the food left over from restaurants and stores. Buildings and meals are reborn through the collaboration with chefs, suppliers, artists, and designers.
The tables in these community places are complicit in new ties. A network of relationship extends from those who give their contributions to the people in conditions of social vulnerability.
Thus, the human chain creates inclusive and aware communities. Volunteers and welcomed guests live the dynamics of being together and broadening their perspective.
Bottura believes culture is the ability to understand life and relationships. A conscious approach to the world, and the ability to ask and keep learning and evolving. In his work as chef, he takes his knowledge of raw materials through creativity and time.
Always projected into the future, Bottura treats the menu like an opera. You have the overture, then the adagio, the allegro, the minuet, and the grand finale. His triptych creates the essence of taste. The dish offers you culture in layers: textures, flavors, and colors to re-awaken the senses.
Gilmore balances the chef’s crazy energy with her calm and steady demeanor. Her contributions have made the couple’s circle of influence larger over the years. From the Food for Soul non profit, to Tortellante, a project in collaboration with the Aut Aut association where Charlie Bottura works along peers and expert makers.
Her latest collaboration is in the gardens of Casa Maria Luigia. It will be interesting to see what Gilmore and the students of a local agricultural high school can make together.
We ride off each other’s enthusiasm.Lara Gilmore
The garden surrounds the house. Inside are 12 rooms, a music room, a kitchen for breakfast and common areas where you can discover books and vinyls. Like Bottura, Gilmore believes that good food and beauty are the best weapons to undo social isolation.
According to Gilmore, life is about being there, being present, sharing yourself and being open to new experiences. Bottura believes chefs can influence culture.
On the future
A future-oriented outlook is quite uncommon in Italy. This point of view is a powerful boost to the combination of ethics and aesthetics. Building on tradition and beauty, Bottura’s kitchen is a Renaissance Atelier.
The chef selects his raw materials with the care of a curator. He sources products from companies that respect the production cycle. From the well being of the animals that help produce Parmigiano Reggiano to the production of his own Balsamic Vinegar. His idea is to draw the best out of what is available.
I’m not a genius, not at all. I’m only a cook with lots of positive energy. I try to convey it in everything I do.Massimo Bottura
Bottura is nimble in a pinch. During the lockdowns in early 2020, he and family started a global conversation on using what you have at home. Kitchen Quarantine quickly became a regular appointment for thousands of people around the world.
Simple convivial dishes with a dash of humor and delicious results were an example of embodied optimism. The show, which had up to half a million viewers on Instagram, won a Webby Award in 2020.
Osteria Francescana, Casa Maria Luigia, and Franceschetta were fully booked when Modena became a red zone. Out of caution, Bottura decided to close. But he and Gilmore also made another decision that was even more difficult: that to keep all staff on. They both reasoned that’s why you have money in the barn, for a rainy day.
However, the team continues to think of projects for the future. Taking care of their staff, keeping everyone on allowed them to kick start nearly ready meal kits at Franceschetta for delivery a couple of weeks later. And to keep going with Food for Soul, distributing meals to overwhelmed hospital staff as well.
There’s always going to be a future. Bottura and Gilmore look to it with enthusiasm.
- The Future of Food, BBC
- Tortellante, Modena
- Chef Massimo Bottura Cooks Meal with Food from Kimmel Writers’ Fridge
- My Experience Eating in the Best Restaurant in the World, Nathaniel Drew
- Casa Maria Luigia
- Balsamic Vinegar, Villa Manodori
- I Refettori di Massimo Bottura e Lara Gilmore, Italian
- Kitchen Quarantine, Alex and Massimo Bottura with Lara Gilmore and Charlie Bottura