Steal From the Best: Massimo Bottura

Lunch at the world’s best restaurant

Steal From the Best is a post series that explores unique places, people and lifestyles related to food and sustainability. Why all this research? Find the answer in Drawing My Ideal Home. Up next in the series: Christian F. Puglisi.

Many people think I like sophisticated food because I enjoy eating out and trying new things. For a while it was true — kind of. So when my best food friend Marta suggested we go to Osteria Francescana together to celebrate her birthday I couldn’t say no. A trip to Italy with the sole purpose of eating? Count me in.

Now you might be thinking about the question that everyone asks: having been crowned as the world’s best restaurant, was it the best meal of my life? Let me try to explain.

To me, the experience of eating at Osteria Francescana started months before we even got to Modena. On September 1st, Marta and I had set our alarms to make the reservation. After what felt like the longest time, we managed to book a table for two and we could barely contain our emotion. We were gonna be eating Oops! I dropped the lemon tart! We were gonna be as wide-eyed as Dev and Arnold! We might even get to meet the skinny chef himself!

Little Bud being amazed at Francescana.

Fast-forward to December 9th and there we were, in front of the unassuming door of one of the most revered restaurants nowadays. The exhilaration we felt is best compared to the time prior to a concert, a trip or a first date — the anticipation, the endless questions, the hope that it all will go as greatly as expected. The meal itself was more similar to a play or an art exhibition. Everything was surprising and thought-provoking. I couldn’t help but deeply respect all the hard work behind every detail — from the Spiegelau glasses and Ryusen knives to the arrangement of all the elements in every single dish, all was considered and taken care of. Even the grissini were surprisingly addictive.

Marta, Massimo (!), terrible lighting and I.

That said — no, it wasn’t the best meal of my life. Far from it. Maybe I’m missing something, but I’d rather have a simple dish so delicious I wish it never ended than a dozen tiny bites that I almost can’t taste. I have nothing against artsy menus but they are not made for me — and the Tutto at Francescana is definitely risky and contemporary. I admire Massimo. His dedication to his craft is enviable and the fact that he has remained approachable enough to come out of the kitchen and greet us is heart-warming. When it comes to choosing where to eat though, I have learned that avant-garde restaurants are not my cup of tea.

I thought that if I respected food and claimed to know it I had to prefer never-ending degustation menus and ingredients that belong in a chemistry lab. But I don’t. The food I enjoy the most is usually the simplest. Honest recipes with very few ingredients but top quality and chosen with care. Of course a dose of surprise is always welcome. I am not saying I only like traditional food — I am counting down the days to eat at Relæ and I’d kill to go to Stone Barns. But I’d rather eat at a humble place that feels like home over a decadent, Michelin-stared restaurant anytime. I had been suspecting it for a while but my lunch at Osteria Francescana confirmed it and that alone is worth the hefty price tag.

I must add that even if it wasn’t my favorite meal ever, seeing how happy Marta was made it one of the most special. To paraphrase one of my top reference chefs, Christian F. Puglisi, life is an opportunity to eat as much great food as possible. It’s just that great food has a different definition for everyone. If I close my eyes and think about it, I see a homemade dish enjoyed with people I love. If I am the one who cooked it while drinking a glass of wine and I can condiment it with some herbs I’ve grown myself — that truly sounds like the best meal I can dream of.