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Italy’s Hidden Gems

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Massimo Bottura: The Skinny Chef You Might Trust as President

Certainly you have heard of Chef Massimo Bottura and his restaurant Osteria Francescana in Modena. Mr. Bottura has been climbing the charts of restaurant fame. He is climbing no longer. He has made it to the top. His is the current best restaurant out of the World's 50 Best Restaurants.

So what is chef Bottura doing right now, as I sling words from a poor comunity devistated by fire? Perhaps you think the chef would be hobnobbing with the rich and famous--but no, he is in Rio. While it's true that cooking has become a sport, the chef is having none of it. He is dishing up Olympic leftovers for the poor. 5000 people will be fed great food that was on the way to the garbage pail. Not-so-perfect fruit and vegetables, the modern biblical loaves and fishes, multiply the food available to the masses if you let it. Cooking and serving it will train cooks, bakers, and servers. How many economic wins can you get in a paragraph?

Massimo Bottura became my hero one night as I was streaming a program called Chef's Table. It was all about the chef and his restaurant. All standard stuff, until the torta.

Here's the scene, reenacted. The last two pieces of lemon tart have been ordered at the end of a long night. The pastry chef removes a piece from the pan and places it on the plate. As he is removing the next piece, it falls on the edge of the plate, the crust cracking like an egg shell on hot concrete. The pastry chef is devistated. Chef Bottura looks on, thoughtfully.

You can feel the tension. The camera zooms into the tart. The forlorn, cracked torta.

"Let's think about this a minute," says chef Bottura.

He is not angry. He does not raise his voice. He doesn't not threaten eternal damnation on the pastry wonk or the poor guy who designed to spatula. He leads angelically.

"What if we..."

And he's off, arranging the torta as if, cracked, it might reveal its story. He grabs a squeeze bottle of lemon zabaione, lush yellow. He swirls, twirls, smashes and adds color via bits of candied ginger and wild apple mostarda until the narrative thinkens. You can't tell if the torta is fresh out of the primordial ooze on its way to becoming whole, reborn as it were--or if it is descending into the underworld where it will become part of an adventure we all crave.

You see, we are fools. We lust for the static state of pristine beauty when it is the concept of not-so-perfect that inspires the artist, begins the fine narrative, and feeds those not deemed suitable for wealth. Marilyn is not Marilyn without that little birthmark.

For Bottura, "breaking" is a beginning and not an end, as "breaking bread" is the begining of a meal and yet it signifies more than just a meal, doesn't it?

In any case, the saga of the lemon tart everyone desires all began with finding a solution to a problem. Don't you wish there was a politician as savvy as Bottura? I certainly do. There are no shortage of problems on this earth.

You can order this lemon tart at Osteria Francescana if you went tomorrow because it's still on the menu. Just ask for "oops! I've dropped the lemon tart!"

You can't beat that for honesty. Don't you wish politicians.....

Oh, never mind. You catch the drift. Here's the recipe and a picture. It might be easier to go to Modena to have it though. That's what I'd do.

Osteria Francescana
Via Stella 22
Modena
Phone: +39 059 223912

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