- I met Massimo Bottura, the best chef in the world, in London during his residency at private members’ club The Conduit.
- He told me the stories behind his most iconic dishes — and they’re surprisingly relatable.
- With names like “Oops! I dropped the lemon tart,” and “The Crunchy Part of the Lasagna,” his plates are tied to emotion and nostalgia.
- It’s perhaps this focus on emotion that led him to become much more than a chef.
- He’s also combatting food waste and homelessness through his non-profit Food For Soul.
Massimo Bottura isn’t shy about being the best chef in the world.
When I met him last week at new London private members club The Conduit, where he was holding a residency for the week, he referred to himself by that name a number of times.
It’s not surprising, given his countless successes to date.
His three Michelin-starred restaurant Osteria Francescana, based in the small town of Modena, Italy, was named the best in the world at the World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2018 awards in June, having previously topped the list in 2016.
You may also have seen Bottura — and Francescana — on the first ever episode of the Netflix original series Chef’s Table, which followed Bottura from his childhood of stealing pieces of his grandmother’s tortellino from under the kitchen table to working in New York City, training with renowned chef Alain Ducasse in Paris, and eventually opening Francescana, where he finds innovative ways of turning traditional Italian dishes into something entirely modern yet nostalgic.
Despite the prestige behind Francescana and Bottura, the stories behind his dishes are surprisingly relatable — none more so than his most iconic one, fittingly titled “Oops! I dropped the lemon tart.”
Dropping the lemon tart
The menu Bottura created for his residency at The Conduit, the new sustainability-focused members’ club which officially opens on September 24, was made up of Bottura’s most iconic dishes, and “really deeply Osteria in every single preparation,” he told me.
Every ingredient was sourced from Modena — using the likes of Bottura’s farmers, fishermen, and cheesemakers — then shipped to London. “We finished everything with all the fresh herbs and foraged around the markets here in London,” he said. “It was a very long process.”
The result was a seven-course menu which finished with “Oops! I dropped the lemon tart.”
The dish involves the idea of “rebuilding in a perfect way the imperfections,” Bottura said.
It came about when Francescana sous chef Taka Kondo accidentally dropped a lemon tart before serving it.
“He was ready to kill himself because he’s Japanese and Japanese [people] doesn’t make mistakes, or they make mistakes but they’re not allowed to,” Bottura said. “So I saved Taka’s life saying ‘Taka, it’s amazing. It’s the metaphor for south of Italy.’
“‘You’re breaking the border between sweet and savoury, and it doesn’t matter if it’s perfect.'”
He calls the dish “the palate of the people,” using bergamot from Calabria, lemon from Sorrento, and almonds and capers from other parts of the country.
“We don’t care [about] the aesthetic part of the dish, we care about the ethic part of the dish,” he said. “If you go to south of Italy, you never know if the museum is open or closed, or when you’ll arrive in Capri — but when you’re there, you swim in Capri and you forget about everything, or you walk into the Temple Valley and it’s done, it’s magic.
“So that’s what the meaning of ‘Oops! I dropped the lemon tart’ is. Keep space open for poetry in your everyday life, with which you can jump and imagine everything.”
He added that in a place like Osteria Francescana — and in Modena — serving a dish like this is “really pushing it, provocative.”
It was this type of creation — too innovative for the conservative and traditional Modena locals — that nearly caused the restaurant to close in its early days.
“It’s also the way to make everyone feel comfortable, even if you’re not used to eating in the best restaurant in the world,” he said. “‘Who cares? Look at that. He made a mistake.'”
After recently giving a speech at the Sydney Opera House, Bottura said: “At the end of the speech, an elementary class arrived with all these young kids, and they gave me a book they did for me, in Australia, saying amazing, very simple messages, cartoons, drawings, writings, which were saying [things] like ‘Chef, you are the best chef in the world and you are making mistake[s].’
“‘You [broke the] lemon tart. If you make mistake[s], we are allowed to make mistake[s] too. So please, keep making mistakes.'”
Serving up emotion
It’s certainly not the only one of Bottura’s dishes that, despite appearing to be quite obscure, is rooted in nostalgia.
Perhaps my second favourite is “The Crunchy Part of the Lasagna,” the pasta course he served at The Conduit.
“The pasta course is very abstract, but is the most emotional plate of the day,” he said, explaining that it’s about sharing “the idea of the grandmother who brings the big pan of lasagna in the middle of the table at Sunday lunch.”
“The kids, they’re stealing the crunchy part,” he said. “I just rebuilt and shared the idea of serving the crunchy part of the lasagna, because it’s the way you approach the food as a kid. Everybody knows, even people from Lima in Peru, they know that the best part of the big pan of lasagna is the crunchy part.”
He added that while in fine dining “it’s not about serving a big piece of lasagna or pasta in your dinner or lunch,” he instead is “serving emotions.”
“I’m serving the emotion of the kid who steals the crunchy part of the lasagna,” he said. “That’s the experience.”
‘We have a big responsibility to change the world’
It is perhaps this connection to emotions that make Bottura much more than just the best chef in the world.
Gary Robinson, Executive Chef at The Conduit and former Head Chef to the Prince of Wales, told me that while Bottura’s food is “utterly incredible — you don’t get three Michelin stars by not being utterly incredible,” his “ethos and values” were a match with the members’ club.
The food program at The Conduit is focused on local sourcing — like Massimo in Modena — and sustainability, but the team particularly identified with Bottura’s work with food waste and feeding the homeless.
The Conduit has teamed up with the Beyond Food Foundation, a charity that “helps homeless people get into meaningful employment.”
Meanwhile, Bottura is attempting to combat homelessness and the food waste crisis in one with his nonprofit Food for Soul.
It began at Expo 2015 in Milan, where the team behind “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life” asked Bottura to be involved.
In “the most neglected neighbourhood in Milan,” Bottura worked with a team of architects, designers, and artists to turn a 1930s abandoned theatre “full of rats and dust” into a pavilion where he could cook “beautiful meals” for those in need.
“We produce food for 12 billion people, we are seven billion on earth, and almost one billion are in need, so we waste 33% of the food we produce,” he said. “This is insane, so I said, ‘We need to do something as chefs, we have a big responsibility to change the world.'”
After Milan, Bottura said he had the idea of “serving people in need in amazing places full of art and design,” not just for the sake of the food, but “also to rebuild the dignity of people and serve them at the table.
“It was not a normal soup kitchen which you’re waiting in line,” he said. “It’s a three-course meal cooked by the best chef in the world, served by the volunteers.”
Now, the foundation uses Bottura’s image to raise money and build these “refettorios” — or community kitchens — across the world, so far in Milan, Rio de Janeiro, London, and Paris.
“To volunteer in London or Paris, there’s a waiting list,” he said. “This is crazy.”
He added that he’s trying to communicate to the world that “what people think is food waste — brown bananas, overripe tomatoes, bread crumbs — for us are just opportunities to create something beautiful.”
“In my life, I [have received] every single prize, recognition, money, whatever, [and] at one point of your life, you should ask yourself…what [should I] do to give back something,” he said.
“The people that choose to do the job I do are usually people that are open to give, not to receive. We give happiness, we transfer that kind of feeling through our food.”
Public officers above 58 years and with pre-existing conditions told to work from home: The Standard
Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua. [File, Standard]
In a document from Head of Public Service, Joseph Kinyua new measure have been outlined to curb the bulging spread of covid-19. Public officers with underlying health conditions and those who are over 58 years -a group that experts have classified as most vulnerable to the virus will be required to execute their duties from home.
However, the new rule excluded personnel in the security sector and other critical and essential services.
“All State and public officers with pre-existing medical conditions and/or aged 58 years and above serving in CSG5 (job group ‘S’) and below or their equivalents should forthwith work from home,” read the document,” read the document.
To ensure that those working from home deliver, the Public Service directs that there be clear assignments and targets tasked for the period designated and a clear reporting line to monitor and review work done.
SEE ALSO: Thinking inside the cardboard box for post-lockdown work stations
Others measures outlined in the document include the provision of personal protective equipment to staff, provision of sanitizers and access to washing facilities fitted with soap and water, temperature checks for all staff and clients entering public offices regular fumigation of office premises and vehicles and minimizing of visitors except by prior appointments.
Officers who contract the virus and come back to work after quarantine or isolation period will be required to follow specific directives such as obtaining clearance from the isolation facility certified by the designated persons indicating that the public officer is free and safe from Covid-19. The officer will also be required to stay away from duty station for a period of seven days after the date of medical certification.
“The period a public officer spends in quarantine or isolation due to Covid-19, shall be treated as sick leave and shall be subject to the Provisions of the Human Resource Policy and procedures Manual for the Public Service(May,2016),” read the document.
The service has also made discrimination and stigmatization an offence and has guaranteed those affected with the virus to receive adequate access to mental health and psychosocial supported offered by the government.
The new directives targeting the Public Services come at a time when Kenyans have increasingly shown lack of strict observance of the issued guidelines even as the number of positive Covid-19 cases skyrocket to 13,771 and leaving 238 dead as of today.
SEE ALSO: Working from home could be blessing in disguise for persons with disabilities
Principal Secretaries/ Accounting Officers will be personally responsible for effective enforcement and compliance of the current guidelines and any future directives issued to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.
Uhuru convenes summit to review rising Covid-19 cases: The Standard
President Uhuru Kenyatta (pictured) will on Friday, July 24, meet governors following the ballooning Covid-19 infections in recent days.
The session will among other things review the efficacy of the containment measures in place and review the impact of the phased easing of the restrictions, State House said in a statement.
This story is being updated.
SEE ALSO: Sakaja resigns from Covid-19 Senate committee, in court tomorrow
Drastic life changes affecting mental health
Kenya has been ranked 6th among African countries with the highest cases of depression, this has triggered anxiety by the World Health Organization (WHO), with 1.9 million people suffering from a form of mental conditions such as depression, substance abuse.
Globally, one in four people is affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, this is according to the WHO.
Currently, around 450 million people suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.
The pandemic has also been known to cause significant distress, mostly affecting the state of one’s mental well-being.
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With the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic attributed to the novel Coronavirus disease, millions have been affected globally with over 14 million infections and half a million deaths as to date. This has brought about uncertainty coupled with difficult situations, including job loss and the risk of contracting the deadly virus.
In Kenya the first Coronavirus case was reported in Nairobi by the Ministry of Health on the 12th March 2020. It was not until the government put in place precautionary measures including a curfew and lockdown (the latter having being lifted) due to an increase in the number of infections that people began feeling its effect both economically and socially.
A study by Dr. Habil Otanga, a Lecturer at the University of Nairobi, Department of Psychology says that such measures can in turn lead to surge in mental related illnesses including depression, feelings of confusion, anger and fear, and even substance abuse. It also brings with it a sense of boredom, loneliness, anger, isolation and frustration. In the post-quarantine/isolation period, loss of employment due to the depressed economy and the stigma around the disease are also likely to lead to mental health problems.
The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) states that at least 300,000 Kenyans have lost their jobs due to the Coronavirus pandemic between the period of January and March this year.
KNBC noted that the number of employed Kenyans plunged to 17.8 million as of March from 18.1 million people as compared to last year in December. The Report states that the unemployment rate in Kenya stands at 13.7 per cent as of March this year while it stood 12.4 per cent in December 2019.
Mama T (not her real name) is among millions of Kenyans who have been affected by containment measures put in place to curb the spread of the virus, either by losing their source of income or having to work under tough guidelines put in place by the MOH.
As young mother and an event organizer, she has found it hard to explain to her children why they cannot go to school or socialize freely with their peers as before.
“Sometimes it gets difficult as they do not understand what is happening due to their age, this at times becomes hard on me as they often think I am punishing them,”
Her contract was put on hold as no event or public gatherings can take place due to the pandemic. This has brought other challenges along with it, as she has to find means of fending for her family expenditures that including rent and food.
“I often wake up in the middle of the night with worries about my next move as the pandemic does not exhibit any signs of easing up,” she says. She adds that she has been forced to sort for manual jobs to keep her family afloat.
Ms. Mary Wahome, a Counseling Psychologist and Programs Director at ‘The Reason to Hope,’ in Karen, Nairobi says that such kind of drastic life changes have an adverse effect on one’s mental status including their family members and if not addressed early can lead to depression among other issues.
“We have had cases of people indulging in substance abuse to deal with the uncertainty and stress brought about by the pandemic, this in turn leads to dependence and also domestic abuse,”
Sam Njoroge , a waiter at a local hotel in Kiambu, has found himself indulging in substance abuse due to challenges he is facing after the hotel he was working in was closed down as it has not yet met the standards required by the MOH to open.
“My day starts at 6am where I go to a local pub, here I can get a drink for as little as Sh30, It makes me suppress the frustration I feel.” he says.
Sam is among the many who have found themselves in the same predicament and resulted to substance abuse finding ways to beat strict measures put in place by the government on the sale of alcohol so as to cope.
Mary says, situations like Sam’s are dangerous and if not addressed early can lead to serious complications, including addiction and dependency, violent behavior and also early death due to health complications.
She has, however, lauded the government for encouraging mental wellness and also launching the Psychological First Aid (PFA) guide in the wake of the virus putting emphasis on the three action principal of look, listen and link. “When we follow this it will be easy to identify an individual in distress and also offer assistance”.
Mary has urged anyone feeling the weight of the virus taking a toll on them not to hesitate but look for someone to talk to.
“You should not only seek help from a specialist but also talk to a friend, let them know what you are undergoing and how you feel, this will help ease their emotional stress and also find ways of dealing with the situation they are facing,” She added
Mary continued to stress on the need to perform frequent body exercises as a form of stress relief, reading and also taking advantage of this unfortunate COVID-19 period to engage in hobbies and talent development.
“Let people take this as an opportunity to kip fit, get in touch with one’s inner self and also engage in reading that would help expand their knowledge.