The Tortellini Sessions

Inspirations from my visit with Massimo Bottura

To say I’m a Massimo Bottura fan is like saying I like food. It doesn’t even begin to describe it. So, when I got the opportunity to visit and meet with him at Osteria Francescana, his famous 3-Michelin-star restaurant in Modena, I knew it was the chance of a lifetime. I found our conversations so inspiring, and it was amazing how similarly we think about our profession. In the end I realised that at the core, we’re all the same, especially when it comes to food. These were the things we talked about that inspired me most.

Running seven restaurants across the globe, including Gucci Osteria in Beverley Hills, and a range of artisanal products is no small feat. But when I asked Massimo how he copes with the pressure, he said, “I thrive on pressure.” And he loves the challenges that come with the job. It’s so simple, it just reminded me that if you love what you do, you love all of it, because even the most mundane or overwhelming tasks are the reason you’re there keeping the ship sailing.

As the last of nine courses at Casa Maria Luigia, Massimo serves a bowl of tortellini, just like his grandmother did when he was a child. I built JAN on the food I grew up with – the tables of my mother and grandmother – so where I come from has always been at the heart of what I do. A lot of chefs, however, don’t necessarily draw from their past, which is fine. But I’ve always found that, no matter in how small a way, my past always anchors me, and gives substance to a dish.

I’ve always loved nostalgia – milk tart flavours, bobotie spices, pap en sous, name it – it’s a mood tonic bar none. But I found it so interesting that Massimo, who’s famous after all for reviving the classic tortellini (a dish from his childhood), approaches nostalgia with caution. He told me that he always looks at the past when figuring out his direction, but that he looks at it in a critical way, because he always aims to bring it into the future. What really resonated with me, though, was that he draws inspiration from a lot of things, like music, painting and artists in his work, which I’ve always found energises me too.

We know this, but it remains one of the food industry’s biggest challenges. Between suppliers, restaurants and large-scale supermarket chains, we waste about a third of all food produced in the packaging and distribution process. But through his project Refettorio Ambrosiano – a soup kitchen he started in 2015 in Milan aimed at feeding people a healthy and delicious meal once a day – and his involvement in creating a waste-free 2016 Rio Olympics, Massimo has been one of the leading international chefs in the fight against food waste.

When I asked Massimo what he felt should change in the food industry, his response gave me goosebumps. “More humanity. More generosity. More community,” he said. We need to work together. Like he said, we chefs can play a big role in the future of our cities and the environment if we work together with our communities. And the sooner we start, the better. The time is now.