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American Women's Club of Hamburg

A Movie and Massimo

At the Berlinale there are several films shown that are followed by a dinner which is based on themes or people in the film. This year, the marriage between Massimo Bottura and the documentary about his life is a perfect union.

 First came the film, Chef’s Table “Massimo Bottura“ (USA 2014). This charming documentary, directed by David Gelb, is a true love story throughout in which Massimo Bottura expresses his love of food and family. That love led to his successful three Michelin star restaurant, Osteria Francescana in Modena, Italy. 

Bottura grew up in Modena. He reveals that his interest in cooking began at an early age as he hid from his teasing older brothers under the table where his grandmother was preparing meals, stealing bits of pasta. He bought his first restaurant in Modena, the Trattoria del Campazzo, which came up for sale at precisely the time Bottura needed a life change. When he started, a woman across the field from the restaurant said she could make pasta and a relationship that has endured almost 30 years began. Bottura’s affection for Lidia Cristoni is transparent, as she rolls out dough on a wooden board, working the dough with a long wooden rolling pin. In addition to making pasta, she also teaches Bottura’s staff how to prepare it.

Bottura met Lara Gilmore in the spring of 1993 when he went to New York City and started his shift at Caffé de Nonna in SoHo. He stayed in New York for nine months to experience its food, art and music. Gilmore became his tour guide and his personal tutor on art around the city. When Bottura returned to Modena, she later surprised him there on his birthday. But Bottura had decided to sell Trattoria del Campazzo and accept an invitation from Alain Ducasse to work with him in Monte Carlo at Hotel de Paris. Bottura sold up and moved to Monte Carlo, leaving Lara behind. 

Throughout the rest of the film, the relationship between Gilmore and Bottura is frankly retold as their love story unfolds through old photographs and anecdotes. Their journey is tied to Bottura’s emergence as a truly exceptional chef. It’s hard not to become personally involved and root for both the personal relationship and professional success of the chef. Spoilers here: Gilmore and Bottura marry and have two children together. Gilmore supports Bottura as he challenges the timeless traditions of Italian cooking, which at first means hard times without customers at the restaurant he opened in 1995 in Modena, the Osteria Francescana. But staying true to his loves, inspired by his history, his family and art, he perfects his own cuisine resulting in three Michelin stars and a legacy of unique dishes that are suitable for framing. For instance, in a tribute to Picasso and a colorful twist on civet of hare, the dish Camouflage: Hare in the Woods, would be equally gorgeous on my wall as on my plate. Just take a look through his cookbook, Never Trust a Skinny Italian Chef, which is full of entertaining stories and beautifully illustrated. Learn how some of Bottura’s revolutionary ideas evolved. See this enjoyable film if you can, but be sure to add a visit to Osteria Francescana to your bucket list! 

After the film we all retired to the Gropius Mirror Restaurant where we would later be joined by Bottura, some colleagues and Director Gelb for a discussion. The film certainly raised expectations for the dinner to follow, which were well exceeded by the memorable meal Bottura and Christian Lohse (Fischers Fritz Restaurant in Berlin) presented. Most of the menu sounds very simple beginning with the Amuse Bouche: Small filled bell pepper. There was a little surprise from the Chef: Memory of a Mortadella Sandwich. Then the starter: Caponata of aubergine, coriander coulis, followed by the main course: Risotto Cacio e Pepe. And finished with a more elaborate dessert: Unset coffee chocolate cream, pistachio jus, salted cinnamon-blossom sugar.

The courses, however, could not have been more surprising and complex. The miniature bell pepper was filled with a cacophony of flavors, too sophisticated for my inexperienced palate to identify but merely savor. Then came the treat from the chef, a fluffy foam of mortadella, lighter than a paté but with the richness of one, just delicious. The aubergine was beautifully presented and equally beautiful to taste. The risotto was thick and creamy with a real bite of pepper. The experience was further enhanced by Bottura as he retold his fascinating story of how he created the dish to save thousands of parmesan cheese wheels that were damaged in an earthquake. The entire meal was complimented by a Riesling wine from Weingut Künstler, Rheingau, which was so fresh and fruity and free flowing that there was no need for red wine. The coffee chocolate cream was delightfully decadent and came in a martini glass rimmed with cinnamon sugar which made licking the glass the final pleasure!

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