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I met the best chef in the world — and the story behind his most iconic dish is surprisingly relatable – Lifestyle – Pulselive.co.ke

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The Conduit

  • 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.”

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“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.”



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Sordid tale of the bank ‘that would bribe God’

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Bank of Credit and Commerce International. August 1991. [File, Standard]

“This bank would bribe God.” These words of a former employee of the disgraced Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) sum up one of the most rotten global financial institutions.
BCCI pitched itself as a top bank for the Third World, but its spectacular collapse would reveal a web of transnational corruption and a playground for dictators, drug lords and terrorists.
It was one of the largest banks cutting across 69 countries and its aftermath would cause despair to innocent depositors, including Kenyans.
BCCI, which had $20 billion (Sh2.1 trillion in today’s exchange rate) assets globally, was revealed to have lost more than its entire capital.
The bank was founded in 1972 by the crafty Pakistani banker Agha Hasan Abedi.
He was loved in his homeland for his charitable acts but would go on to break every rule known to God and man.
In 1991, the Bank of England (BoE) froze its assets, citing large-scale fraud running for several years. This would see the bank cease operations in multiple countries. The Luxembourg-based BCCI was 77 per cent owned by the Gulf Emirate of Abu Dhabi.  
BoE investigations had unearthed laundering of drugs money, terrorism financing and the bank boasted of having high-profile customers such as Panama’s former strongman Manual Noriega as customers.
The Standard, quoting “highly placed” sources reported that Abu Dhabi ruler Sheikh Zayed Sultan would act as guarantor to protect the savings of Kenyan depositors.
The bank had five branches countrywide and panic had gripped depositors on the state of their money.
Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) would then move to appoint a manager to oversee the operations of the BCCI operations in Kenya.
It sent statements assuring depositors that their money was safe.
The Standard reported that the Sheikh would be approaching the Kenyan and other regional subsidiaries of the bank to urge them to maintain operations and assure them of his personal support.
It was said that contact between CBK and Abu Dhabi was “likely.”
This came as the British Ambassador to the UAE Graham Burton implored the gulf state to help compensate Britons, and the Indian government also took similar steps.
The collapse of BCCI was, however, not expect to badly hit the Kenyan banking system. This was during the sleazy 1990s when Kenya’s banking system was badly tested. It was the era of high graft and “political banks,” where the institutions fraudulently lent to firms belonging or connected to politicians, who were sometimes also shareholders.
And even though the impact was expected to be minimal, it was projected that a significant number of depositors would transfer funds from Asian and Arab banks to other local institutions.
“Confidence in Arab banking has taken a serious knock,” the “highly placed” source told The Standard.
BCCI didn’t go down without a fight. It accused the British government of a conspiracy to bring down the Pakistani-run bank.  The Sheikh was said to be furious and would later engage in a protracted legal battle with the British.
“It looks to us like a Western plot to eliminate a successful Muslim-run Third World Bank. We know that it often acted unethically. But that is no excuse for putting it out of business, especially as the Sultan of Abu Dhabi had agreed to a restructuring plan,” said a spokesperson for British Asians.
A CBK statement signed by then-Deputy Governor Wanjohi Murithi said it was keenly monitoring affairs of the mother bank and would go to lengths to protect Kenyan depositors.
“In this respect, the CBK has sought and obtained the assurance of the branch’s management that the interests of depositors are not put at risk by the difficulties facing the parent company and that the bank will meet any withdrawal instructions by depositors in the normal course of business,” said Mr Murithi.
CBK added that it had maintained surveillance of the local branch and was satisfied with its solvency and liquidity.
This was meant to stop Kenyans from making panic withdrawals.
For instance, armed policemen would be deployed at the bank’s Nairobi branch on Koinange Street after the bank had announced it would shut its Kenyan operations.
In Britain, thousands of businesses owned by British Asians were on the verge of financial ruin following the closure of BCCI.
Their firms held almost half of the 120,000 bank accounts registered with BCCI in Britain. 
The African Development Bank was also not spared from this mess, with the bulk of its funds deposited and BCCI and stood to lose every coin.
Criminal culture
In Britain, local authorities from Scotland to the Channel Islands are said to have lost over £100 million (Sh15.2 billion in today’s exchange rate).
The biggest puzzle remained how BCCI was allowed by BoE and other monetary regulation authorities globally to reach such levels of fraudulence.
This was despite the bank being under tight watch owing to the conviction of some of its executives on narcotics laundering charges in the US.
Coast politician, the late Shariff Nassir, would claim that five primary schools in Mombasa lost nearly Sh1 million and appealed to then Education Minister George Saitoti to help recover the savings. Then BoE Governor Robin Leigh-Pemberton condemned it as so deeply immersed in fraud that rescue or recovery – at least in Britain – was out of the question.
“The culture of the bank is criminal,” he said. The bank was revealed to have targeted the Third World and had created several “institutional devices” to promote its operations in developing countries.
These included the Third World Foundation for Social and Economic Studies, a British-registered charity.
“It allowed it to cultivate high-level contacts among international statesmen,” reported The Observer, a British newspaper.
BCCI also arranged an annual Third World lecture and a Third World prize endowment fund of about $10 million (Sh1 billion in today’s exchange rate).
Winners of the annual prize had included Nelson Mandela (1985), sir Bob Geldof (1986) and Archbishop Desmond Tutu (1989).
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Monitor water pumps remotely via your phone

Tracking and monitoring motor vehicles is not new to Kenyans. Competition to install affordable tracking devices is fierce but essential for fleet managers who receive reports online and track vehicles from the comfort of their desk.

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Agricultural Development Corporation Chief Accountant Gerald Karuga on the Spot Over Fraud –

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Gerald Karuga, the acting chief accountant at the Agricultural Development Corporation (ADC), is on the spot over fraud in land dealings.

ADC was established in 1965 through an Act of Parliament Cap 346 to facilitate the land transfer programme from European settlers to locals after Kenya gained independence.

Karuga is under fire for allegedly aiding a former powerful permanent secretary in the KANU era Benjamin Kipkulei to deprive ADC beneficiaries of their land in Naivasha.

Kahawa Tungu understands that the aggrieved parties continue to protest the injustice and are now asking the Ethics and Anti-corruption Commission (EACC) and the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) to probe Karuga.

A source who spoke to Weekly Citizen publication revealed that Managing Director Mohammed Dulle is also involved in the mess at ADC.

Read: Ministry of Agriculture Apologizes After Sending Out Tweets Portraying the President in bad light

Dulle is accused of sidelining a section of staffers in the parastatal.

The sources at ADC intimated that Karuga has been placed strategically at ADC to safeguard interests of many people who acquired the corporations’ land as “donations” from former President Daniel Arap Moi.

Despite working at ADC for many years Karuga has never been transferred, a trend that has raised eyebrows.

“Karuga has worked here for more than 30 years and unlike other senior officers in other parastatals who are transferred after promotion or moved to different ministries, for him, he has stuck here for all these years and we highly suspect that he is aiding people who were dished out with big chunks of land belonging to the corporation in different parts of the country,” said the source.

In the case of Karuga safeguarding Kipkulei’s interests, workers at the parastatals and the victims who claim to have lost their land in Naivasha revealed that during the Moi regime some senior officials used dubious means to register people as beneficiaries of land without their knowledge and later on colluded with rogue land officials at the Ministry of Lands to acquire title deeds in their names instead of those of the benefactors.

Read Also: Galana Kulalu Irrigation Scheme To Undergo Viability Test Before Being Privatised

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“We have information that Karuga has benefitted much from Kipkulei through helping him and this can be proved by the fact that since the matter of the Naivasha land began, he has been seen changing and buying high-end vehicles that many people of his rank in government can’t afford to buy or maintain,” the source added.

“He is even building a big apartment for rent in Ruiru town.”

The wealthy officer is valued at over Sh1.5 billion in prime properties and real estate.

Last month, more than 100 squatters caused scenes in Naivasha after raiding a private firm owned by Kipkulei.

The squatters, who claimed to have lived on the land for more than 40 years, were protesting take over of the land by a private developer who had allegedly bought the land from the former PS.

They pulled down a three-kilometre fence that the private developed had erected.

The squatters claimed that the former PS had not informed them that he had sold the land and that the developer was spraying harmful chemicals on the grass affecting their livestock and homes built on a section of the land.

Read Also: DP Ruto Wants NCPB And Other Agricultural Bodies Merged For Efficiency

Naivasha Deputy County Commissioner Kisilu Mutua later issued a statement warning the squatters against encroaching on Kipkuleir’s land.

“They are illegally invading private land. We shall not allow the rule of the jungle to take root,” warned Mutua.

Meanwhile, a parliamentary committee recently demanded to know identities of 10 faceless people who grabbed 30,350 acres of land belonging to the parastatal, exposing the rot at the corporation.

ADC Chairman Nick Salat, who doubles up as the KANU party Secretary-General, denied knowledge of the individuals and has asked DCI to probe the matter.

Email your news TIPS to [email protected] or WhatsApp +254708677607. You can also find us on Telegram through www.t.me/kahawatungu

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William Ruto eyes Raila Odinga Nyanza backyard

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Deputy President William Ruto will next month take his ‘hustler nation’ campaigns to his main rival, ODM leader Raila Odinga’s Nyanza backyard, in an escalation of the 2022 General Election competition.

Acrimonious fall-out

Development agenda

Won’t bear fruit

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