A cathedral in Modena

Massimo Bottura — Love Story. Chef’s Table, V.1 E.1

by | Chef's Table Guide, Series At The Stern | 0 comments

This episode of Chef’s Table features chef Massimo Bottura of Modena, Italy. You should check out the last episode, which featured Indian chef Gaggan Anand.

Honestly, I enjoyed this episode — even though it was kind of been there, done that. So, I’m going to give a short explanation of who Massimo Bottura is and what he’s doing, and then I’m going to talk about the more original thread of this episode. That involves his relationship with his wife, Lara Gilmore, and how their “love story” has shaped his cuisine and restaurant experience.

Another episode with a culinary power couple was the one on Thai food featuring Bo Songvisava and her husband Dylan.

Massimo’s journey is a journey from one type of tortellino to another. Point A to point B. Sort of like this Chef’s Table guide, which has become more and more modern the farther we go.

His journey begins in his grandmother’s kitchen, where he’s sitting under the table and eating all the raw tortellini he can pilfer. He grows up. Starts a restaurant after success in Italy and in New York. Decides he wants to revamp traditional Italian tortellini. Creates a wholly original dish: six tortellini, instead of the traditional ten, walking in a line through two gelatinous pools of broth.

The critics hate it. No man is a prophet in his own country. He gets terrible reviews and wants to quit.

Here’s where Lara comes in. She tells him, “This is a fire that’s going to keep burning inside you. If you give this up, you’ll regret it forever.” His goal is to modernize Italian cooking, to bring traditional Modena food into the 21st century. She urges him to keep at it for another year.

By happenstance, Italy’s top critic makes a detour to Modena. Eats at Osteria Francescana and loves it! Writes a stellar review. Reputation made. Sealed. Done deal. Followed by success, then a Michelin star.

Above: Several examples of dishes created by Massimo Bottura at his restaurant Osteria Francescana.

It’s like what they say. Behind every great… You know the rest.

In this case, it’s a woman behind the man. In the case of Bo in that other episode I linked, it’s a man behind a woman. These days, it works either way. I wouldn’t say, though, that Lara stands behind Massimo in his culinary pursuits. I’d say she stands beside him. Even the commentators in the episode say she was the most important factor towards the greatness of Osteria Francescana.

She introduced Massimo to art, particularly modern art. That made his unique take on traditional Modenese cuisine possible.

They met when both came in for a trial shift at the same New York restaurant on the same day. To Lara, he was a cool, stylish Italian guy. She’d never met anyone like him.

But their relationship became fraught when he moved back to Italy. After a short time, she followed him, only to find out he’d been dating another girl for a while. So she went back home to New York while he pursued his culinary dreams.

Then, one day, after creating a brilliant, modern dish — “Oops! I dropped the lemon tart” — he realized what he’d done wrong and flew to New York and asked her if she wanted to spend the rest of her life with him.

It’s a modern fairytale, okay? They moved to Modena together. She had to go back home to attend to family business. He proposed to her over the phone on the day their restaurant opened. She said she’d get back to him after having her coffee. She called back and said yes.

Lara acknowledges her unique role in Massimo’s creative process. She’s the one who takes his raw ideas and interprets them into something that people will understand. For any artist, having a person like this — someone you can commune with on a deeply spiritual and emotional level — is important.

Yeah, it’s a touching story. I can almost see it being made into a movie! Massimo and Lara. Let’s hope the next episode of Chef’s Table is just as touching.

If you want to learn more about Massimo Bottura and Lara Gilmore, check out this article from Financial Review.

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