Culture is the most important ingredient for chefs because it brings knowledge. You don’t cook to show how good you are, rather we use culture to express the ingredients.
On one fine afternoon in March, Jakarta was blessed with a visit from one of the world’s culinary luminaries. Chef Massimo Bottura -who hails from Modena in Italy- graced the kitchen floor of the Orient8 restaurant at the Hotel Mulia Senayan for an unprecedented two-night dinner hosted by the maestro himself. Chef Bottura made a name for himself by garnering three prestigious Michelin stars at his flagship restaurant Osteria Francescana in his hometown of Modena. Not to mention that his restaurant constantly ranks as the top five restaurants in the world by the media, pundits, and peers alike. So when someone of Bottura’s stature visits Jakarta, it was treated as if royalty had just arrived.
As luck would have it, we were fortunate enough to attend a special audience with Chef Bottura as part of a media event prior to the actual dinner. After sampling around half of the dinner menu, we were treated to a Q&A session with Chef Bottura. Right from the very beginning you can see and feel that Chef Bottura is a man of passion with a deeply rooted love for the culinary world. Unlike some chefs out there, there was hardly a shred of pompousness or self-righteousness visible from his character. Here’s a man who is considered to be one of –if not- the best in the world at what he does and he’s in front of us sharing stories about his first encounter with nasi Padang.
We couldn’t resist from getting to know the man better and therefore launched a series of questions aimed to shed a light on what makes him tick. Chef Bottura considered himself an artisan first and foremost. “Someone who makes beautiful objects is an artisan,” he says. This little piece of information is supported by the way he plates his dishes are more similar to individual pieces of art rather than a plate of food. One of his most famous dishes –aptly named Psychedelic Veal Not Flame Grilled- was partially inspired by renowned artist Damien Hirst. Chef Bottura claims that the food he serves is a reflection of his passion, which he likens to having a conversation with an audience. “My dialogue is not with your mind,” he says. “I can talk or elaborate about the ingredients, but my dialogue is with your palate.”
Being a man who was brought up in a rich cultural surrounding with tight familial ties, Chef Bottura can never the discount the importance of one’s own upbringing. “Culture is the most important ingredient for chefs because it brings knowledge,” he says. “You don’t cook to show how good you are, rather we use culture to express the ingredients.” It was evident that this whole notion plays a significant part of his ethos in the kitchen. Due to his experience growing up in the north of Italy, Chef Bottura considers rice to be an integral ingredient in his cooking not only because it’s in abundance, but also because of what it signifies. “Rice brings a message of hope,” he says.
From his statements, it’s clear that Chef Bottura is person who understands the underlying philosophies of cooking. He disclosed that one’s ego must suppressed in order to succeed in the culinary world. Good food is all that matters to the maestro and everything else is just white noise. Although he did have a few choice words about Nordic cuisine, he did admit that it was a great idea and he realised that. Chef Bottura did not allow his ego to get the better of him and firmly supported the Nordic movement because they produced good food.
After getting a good dose of his intangible qualities, it was a no-brainer to ask if Chef Bottura tasted any of our culinary treasures. He went on to reveal that he tasted gulai ayam (Padang-styled chicken curry) the day before. “I’m impressed with Indonesian food,” he says. “I ask myself why Indonesian food is not commonly found anywhere else.” He believed that Indonesian food has a huge potential in the future. An anecdote about Peruvian food was his prime example. Peruvian cuisine did make a big splash on the world’s culinary scene over the last few years and according to Chef Bottura, Indonesians can certainly emulate the Peruvians. “Encourage the younger generation of Indonesia to travel and believe in your agricultural products,” he says.
With the Q&A session winding down, the final question for Chef Bottura was catered towards budding chefs who are still trying to make a name for themselves. There’s hardly a better source of knowledge than a three Michelin star chef. He advised that up-and-coming chefs should pay careful attention to the taste palates. Because if there’s no balance between the tastes, then your cuisine will not be memorable. Aside from balance of taste, Chef Bottura also noted the importance of enjoying your daily routine and be relaxed about it. “The secret to chef life is not to lose yourself in everyday life,” he says. “If you lose yourself into obsession, you lose creativity.”