Interview: Massimo Bottura

We speak with the poetic Italian chef about the flavor of cars

Chef Massimo Bottura, owner of three-Michelin star Osteria Francescana, in Modena, Italy is a master and an artist who speaks like a poet. Given their shared hometown, Maserati partnered with Bottura to look at cars through the lens of food and brought him to the Geneva Motor Show for an unexpected food-focused press conference. “I compress in to edible bites my passion,” he said during his presentation which included a tasting of three dishes. One dish, created for the Levante SUV was a fresh, citrus-forward risotto. We sat down with Bottura to learn more about the partnership and came away from the conversation charmed and inspired.

I love talking about design with car designers, and a question I sometimes ask them—just to see how they think and how big they can think—is “if you could taste your car, what would it taste like?” Sometimes they can’t handle the question, oftentimes they relate their car to candy. But you’ve created a flavor for the Maserati Levante. So, what does Levante taste like?

So first, I tell you why I decided to develop this relationship—first, because we are both from Modena. That’s very important. We think very slow and act very quick. Make it look simple, the very complicated thing. It’s on our flag, our motto. It is a very special place where you have the best fast cars, but also the slow food that is mythic in the world—think about the wheels of Parmigiano-Reggiano, or waiting 25 years before tasting balsamic vinegar, so it’s like, “Wow, what’s going on?”

What is the crunchy part of the lasagna? It’s the emotional part

So the creative process starts like that. I look at the past as they do and I look at that picture, it’s exactly how I cook, exactly how I cook. You look at the past in a very critical way, not in a nostalgic one. And you get just a blast from the past into the future. You don’t get the engine, you don’t get the brakes. You don’t get the tires. You get color. You get the shape, but also the emotional feeling, you know, is exactly how I cook.

I’m serving you the crunchy part of the lasagna, and what is the crunchy part of the lasagna? It’s the emotional part. Who cares in 2017 if you eat a big pile of lasagna. You know, no one was talking about lasagna before this, but I said, “No, you know it’s very important.” We don’t have to lose our past.

I’m serving emotions, exactly how when you put sport, that car that has sound as you know

We grew up in the middle of museum: open sky, with the beauty everywhere… and in the suburbs of the cities, but we have in the DNA the heritage of our architects, designers, artists. We can’t lose that, so we bring the blast from the past into the future.

And for me in the lasagna as a kid, I know exactly that the best part is the crunchy part. The rest is for adults, but the kids know that the best part… So serving the crunchy part—I’m serving emotions, exactly how when you put sport, that car that has sound as you know, music is the other passion I have.

The sound of a great speaker that is like you can hear the whispering of Miles Davis or the perfection of Billie Holiday singing, it’s exactly the same thing. There’s no difference.

Is a good answer?

It is a good story and a good, explanation of your motivation and inspiration, but I still want to know what a Levante tastes like.

You’re right, I get lost. I get lost… The microclimate of Lake of Garda, north, close to the Alps, north of where I live, is is warm. Why? Because of the wind, that from south comes up north, goes on the Alps, can’t move because there’s… and goes back into the lake, and you can grow olives, tomatoes, Bergamots, mandarin, orange. It’s incredible.

In the winter? In the northern Italy?

It’s incredible. In the winter. In the northern Italy. It’s unbelievable. The microclimate, the biodiversity of food, taste and idea, you know. And the Levante taste is air that goes into the plants of citrus and you experience the freshness of the new SUV.

Beautiful. Talk to me a little about driving—how you’d like to drive, what driving is for you?

When we were kids we would experience the F1 race. I remember Agostini, Sena and Villa, they were all there. And we were going to the circuit and see in the morning these guys, you know, driving and getting crazy.

In the snow was the best part, you know… driving and going crazy—it’s like it’s pure emotion

So when you grow up like that, how can you forget? It’s inside you forever. As kids at 18, 19, we could drive cars. In the snow was the best part, you know…driving and going crazy—it’s like it’s pure emotion. It’s like when you hear Bob Dylan singing or see Damien Hirst or Ross Bleckner. You see paintings or amazing artwork, it’s pure emotion. You can say, “Oh, I like that car” or “I don’t.” It’s not about that; it’s about experiencing the emotion.

What food makes you happy?

When I’m home, I love to experience ingredients, pure ingredients. I am very happy and I am very lucky because yesterday my sister called me from Sicily and said, “They deliver so much oranges and lemons, what am I supposed to do with all this?” They’re the most unbelievable organic fruits that they grow up on the volcanic earth in Sicily, in Vesuvio. And they’re not red, they’re like Bordeaux, like burgundy because they absorb this darkness and mineral flavor from the soil.

When you have passion, you have passion

Or you taste that animal in the buffalo mozzarella milk, that you know they were made that morning, it’s unbelievable. This is Italy from the south to north, central, to north… The aroma in the restaurant is totally different. It’s not that when I’m home.

Yesterday, I was in Milan for the most important conference of the year and the night before, I had a few ideas. I had notes and one whole chapter about how to express cooking as art—I was thinking about Piero della Francesca, Michelangelo Pistoletto and Carlo Benvenuto. You have the same idea behind this art reflection and the mirror and the thing, but totally different, you know. And one can match the other, but when art is really high and really incredible, it is standing and is the sum of all the past, and what I was writing and thinking about that during the night… in the meantime I was sleeping.

So when you have passion, you have passion.

Final image courtesy of Maserati, others by Josh Rubin