Massimo Bottura, Modena and breaking conventions
We are in Modena, the city synonymous with the Italian sports car – Ferrari and Maserati (whom we’re here to visit) have factories here, and Enzo named the Ferrari 360 Modena after the city he was born in. It is of course also famed for the Modena balsamic vinegar and a superior Parmigiano Reggiano, as well as its proximity to other delicacies – pasta, air-cured prosciutto, and some incredible bread as we got to experience first-hand.
Modena is home to a number of world-famous restaurants too – namely the Michelin three-star Osteria Francescana, listed in the top five of the world’s best fifty restaurants, and run by the esteemed chef Massimo Bottura. Tonight, though, we head to a younger establishment, Ristorante l’Erba del Re, which holds a Michelin star, to learn a little about Modena’s contemporary culinary specialities from Luca Marchini, a rising chef and a former apprentice of Bottura.
Marchini champions a new style of Italian cooking that is rooted in the Emilia-Romagna region where he works with local produce and classic flavours. This is Italy’s capital of gastronomy – its fertile land and agreeable climate means much of the country’s specialist ingredients come from here. It is even coined the breadbasket of Italy. At Marchini’s Amalthea cooking school we learn a thing or two about the philosophies of Italian cooking, its strict codes, the connection with land and place, and history. The Italians are rightfully hugely proud of their gastronomy, but a rich heritage can sometimes mean a reluctance to evolve.
Massimo Bottura gained fame for challenging conventions. This hugely dynamic figure shook up the Italian food culture, approaching the classics in the most avant-garde way, almost like an artist, which is made the more remarkable when you think of his stage. Modena is no Milan or Rome or Florence. Strolling around this quiet place, it is noticeably small and modest – and despite its sports car association, the young and old commute the pebble streets on bicycles.
Not surprisingly Bottura wasn’t accepted by locals at first – Netflix’s Chef’s Table captures the drama of the time brilliantly. Then, the Italian chefs followed strict codes and were unable to accept such a radical departure from recipes that were so intertwined with local culture and history. Yet Bottura stuck to his belief, his brand you could say, and re-engineered mama’s classics, as he puts it. He is now considered one of the leading culinary creatives of our time.
Bottura is proof that it is important to question what is perceived as being the norm, and, where possible, to challenge conventions, as long as they are relevant. We work with a huge variety of brands at Spinach – small, medium, and large companies from the hospitality world, finance, construction, property. Yet to be successful and recognised in this crowded market they must share one thing and that is to have a solid base, a strong and unique identity, perhaps even a profound ideology from where they can then explore, be daring, be avant-garde.
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