Massimo Bottura

Massimo Bottura is one of the world’s most creative culinary forces. He has become a leading figure amongst a new generation of Italian chefs thanks to his work as an innovator and restaurateur. He has opened two restaurants in Modena, Italy, within the culinary-rich region of Emilia-Romagna: Osteria Francescana, which was awarded a third Michelin Star in 2012, and the offshoot brasserie, Franceschetta58.

The chef opened Osteria Francescana in his hometown of Modena in 1995. It was listed as the number one restaurant on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list in 2016, and number two in 2017. The chef has always engaged in a profound exploration of territory and tradition, as Bottura himself defines his idea of cuisine as “Tradition seen from 10 kilometres away.” Today, Italy’s rich gastronomic heritage, ingredients, and culinary traditions are redefined everyday at Osteria Francescana with the benefit of critical distance, new cooking techniques, and a constant desire to ensure that the Italian kitchen evolves. Currently, Osteria Francescana is considered the best restaurant in Italy and one of the most influential in the whole world.


Osteria Francescana. Photos courtesy of Callo Albanese & SUEO and Paolo Terzi

In March 2016, Chef Massimo Bottura founded Food for Soul: a non-profit organization aimed to enable communities to fight food waste while aiming towards social inclusion. All the projects want to bring a sense of dignity back to the table by promoting the values of art and beauty, encouraging solidarity within local communities and recovering food, places, and people.

Food for Soul is both the continuation and the evolution of the off-site ExpoMilan project, Refettorio Ambrosiano​ that Massimo Bottura, together with Davide Rampello and Caritas Ambrosiana​, created in 2015. Transforming an abandoned theater in a suburb of Milan into an avant-garde soup kitchen, they served more than 10.000 healthy and tasty meals cooked from 15 tons of salvaged food. During the six months of ExpoMilan, he invited more than 65 international chefs to cook with the waste of the pavilions, and 100 volunteers washed dishes and mopped the floors. Still today Refettorio Ambrosiano serves meals to the homeless of Milan, thanks to the operational management of Caritas Ambrosiana, and stands as a center for cultural events promoted by the non-profit organization Per il Refettorio.


Photo courtesy of Angelo Dal Bo

Functioning as a research and development team as well as the primary fundraising organ, Food for Soul works on the promotion of new Refettori, Socialtables and other educational initiatives all over the world. The goal is to converge the know-how of professionals from different fields in each project and make it available to the local community involved. The organization promotes the opening of community kitchens, and supports existing soup kitchens that want to embrace the Food for Soul mission.

Mood of Living Q&A

Mood of Living: What was your “aha” moment when you realized you could pursue being a professional chef and open a restaurant? What were the greatest challenges you faced?

Massimo Bottura:I didn’t choose to become a chef, it just happened. I like to think that the profession chose me. I don’t know if given the choice, whether I would become a chef or not. The hours are terrible, you have to sacrifice everything, and there are no guarantees. I certainly wouldn’t advise my daughter or son to enter into this profession but I cannot imagine doing anything else. I am addicted to Osteria Francescana, the people, the neighbors who say “Ciao!” to me on the street. The past 21 years of Osteria Francescana could have never been planned by an architect or designed by a business manager. The choices we made were always desperate and reaching beyond our means and our ability, but it is exactly that kind of stretching that enables you to grow slowly.


Beautiful, psychedelic spin painted veal, not flame grilled. Photo courtesy of Callo Albanese & SUEO

MoL: One of the first things you see inside the door of Osteria Francescana is a self-portrait of the artist Joseph Beuys with the motto “We are the revolution” – what does it mean to you?

MB: I always quote Beuys for his enthusiastic call to arms. We, chefs, artisans, farmers, sommeliers, restaurateurs are all part of a great FOOD REVOLUTION. We need to insure that food is actual, local, emotional and inspirational. Food must align the natural world, technology and the arts. The contemporary kitchen exists to define, sublime, and express – not to regress. We can not return to the kitchen of our grandmothers. We are not here to serve food to hungry bellies but to hungry minds. Our plates are the evolution of our ideas. After all, we are what we cook.

Refettorio Gastromotiva, Brazil. Photos courtesy of Angelo dal Bo

MoL: How has Italian culture influenced your work at home and abroad? With such a strong family focus, how do you rate great achievement in Italian cooking?
MB: I am an Italian chef born and raised in Modena. When I was a kid I would hide under the kitchen table while my grandmother folded tortellini. As the flour fell around me, I would steal the tortellini she was so laboriously making for us when she wasn’t looking. I would pop them into my mouth raw and chew for a very long time until all the flavor was drawn out. If I had to eat only one food for the rest of my life, it would be traditional Modenese tortellini. My kitchen could never be anything other than Italian because it is in my blood and in my bones. Although I love the kitchens from around the world and try to learn all I can from their traditions and techniques, I will always be true to my Italian roots. I think you can define an Italian chef by the way ingredients are used in the kitchen. The Italian kitchen is clean, healthy and seasonal. It is fresh and delicious. It has distinctive flavors that represent its unique and diverse geography of this small peninsula. It is not about the recipes but about a kind of respect for ingredients that makes a person an Italian chef. And, being born and raised in Italy helps a great deal because in Italy one learns from a very young age that cooking is an act of love.

Dishes in Osteria Francescana. Photo courtesy of Callo Albanese & SUEO

MoL: What advice would you give young food professionals or those hoping to pursue any passion? What will their responsibility to the food community entail?
MB: My advice to young chefs is to never stop dreaming nor allow the daily routine to shut down your creativity. All the years of moving up with ratings in the culinary guide books, winning awards and recognition, articles and so forth were important years of growth and maturity. It all happened in a very organic way. Every year we worked harder and harder to improve the restaurant and mature as chefs. Recognition came slowly but it did come a little at a time. This is actually a blessing in disguise because we have had the time to grow. I would like to pass on the advice my father-in-law gave me nearly 20 years ago which served me very well. Ken Gilmore said, “Be like a tree; grow slowly.”

Refettorio Ambrosiano. Photos courtesy of Caritas Ambrosiana and Paolo Saglia

MoL: What was your motivation for creating Refettorio Ambrosiano during Milan Expo 15 and then Food for Soul? How do you hope the venture will expand in the future?
MB: Chefs today are influencers and therefore they have a responsibility to help their communities grow and become more sustainable. A part of this growth is the fight against food waste and against hunger. I became aware of the power of my voice, of our voice –so why don’t we use it outside the kitchen, to support our communities? Feeding, teaching, learning and sharing with the community to create better nutrition but also inclusion and well-being for those who feel marginalized from society. The goal of Food for Soul is not only to feed the body but the soul. For this reason we always include in all our projects the collaboration with artists, designers and architects. Art brings beauty, life and culture to the table. This kind of nourishment is about creating inviting spaces that generate well-being.

We created Food for Soul because we saw at the Refettorio Ambrosiano that food can be a bridge between rich and poor, hunger and waste. It can be a bridge for people to create new communities around nourishment. This is a cultural project, not a charity project. And culture is really the most important and influential aspect of the future of food. Without culture we don’t know who we are, we loose our sense of identity. With culture we gain knowledge and consciousness. And from there it is a very small step to becoming socially responsible – for yourself, your family, your business, and your community. After all, we are all in this together.

Social Tables at Antoniano, Bologna. Photo courtesy of Silvia Corticelli

What we’ve done so far with Food for Soul is not only going beyond my expectations, but even my dreams. Three years ago, when just the glimpse of an idea popped up in my mind and I thought about launching the very first project, Refettorio Ambrosiano, I couldn’t have ever been able to imagine such a thing. We learnt about our impact by doing, during the process of restoring abandoned spaces, recovering food otherwise wasted, welcoming all those people who haven’t been as lucky as us in their lives. We made visible the invisible in Milan, during a massive event like the Universal Exposition in 2015. We asked ourselves: what does “feed the planet” mean to us? And considering that one third of the food we produce every year is wasted and almost one billion people is undernourished, our response to feed the planet — the theme launched by Expo2015 — was Refettorio Ambrosiano first, and then Food for Soul. In 2016, even Refettorio Gastromotiva in Rio de Janeiro came out of a dream, that turned into an idea, then a vision, then a shared project, then a real space in the beating heart of Rio, opened since the Olympics 2016. Our next project will take us in West London, where we will restore a community center that has been existed for the last 25 years. Designers, architects and artists are already working to make this space beautiful and inclusive; chefs from all over Britain, as well as international ones, already answered my call to action and will join me to cook recovered surplus food during the whole month of June. On June 5th, Refettorio Felix has opened.

Refettorio Felix, London. Photos courtesy of The Felix Project and Simon Owen Red Photographic

The good thing is, that all these places are not pop up: we build them to stay permanently, to leave a legacy to the city and be a pivotal space where the whole community can meet and grow. We recently had the great news that the Rockefeller Foundation will support us to grow sustainably and to expand in the US: a clear message that shows how many other people and institutions are sharing our same mission. I can only say that in the future, I see more future.

Social Media

Twitter: @massimobottura
Facebook: Massimo Bottura-Osteria Francescana


Massimo Bottura