“It’s like ‘Game of Thrones, no?” jokes Massimo Bottura of his wolf motif T-shirt. The animalia was courtesy of Gucci, which is run by his old grade school chum Marco Bizzarri. The two, along with Gucci creative director Alessandro Michele, have collaborated on a range of projects, the latest of which is the Osteria at Gucci Garden in Florence, opened last month.
“We shared the same desk for five years in high school. He was living like 15 kilometers from Modena, and usually he was spending time in my house, to do homework and study, or he was calling my mom directly and she was cooking for everyone,” Bottura says of Bizzarri. At the time, Bottura was a serious soccer player but he quit sports to focus on his studies in order to become a lawyer and work in the family oil business. His mother, he says, was the one who pushed him to follow his passion for food.
Did Bizzarri exhibit signs of fashion savvy early on? “Not really,” recalls Bottura. “Marco was a very, very nice and straight guy, wearing jeans, a Barracuda and a T-shirt, as everyone did in the Seventies. He was very into numbers, he was very good on math.”
When Bizzarri landed at Bottega Veneta, the two started creating events on the rooftop of the Milan flagship. “I was able to do whatever I want because he said, ‘Do whatever you want.'” Then I became friends with Tomas Maier, then I had the chance to meet Mr. [François-Henri] Pinault, and he was so into the cooking thing. He’s a French guy, so instead of being at the table with the others, he was looking at us plating with crazy food, and we became, step-by-step, into this whole world.”
Along with Maserati — also from Modena — Bottura and Gucci have gone on a world tour of sorts, creating one-of-a-kind experiences in Hong Kong, Russia, Tokyo and Ellis Island with the shared ethos of new and progressive Italian creatives. “I put together the new Italy, the Italy that has a future, that still has dreams, you know? Osteria Francescana is number one in the world, and Maserati is like Ferrari, and Gucci is like…boom! So we travel together around the world and we are so incredibly good and full of great ideas,” he enthuses.
This week finds Bottura in Beverly Hills, where he prepared a lavish five-course dinner at Christie’s for Gucci’s North American president and chief executive officer Susan Chokachi and 50 of her closest friends. The menu wasn’t a riff on the dishes served in Bottura’s three-Michelin-starred Modena, Italy restaurant Osteria Francescana, but rather his take on New York-meets-L.A. Diners including Michael Govan, Katherine Ross, Asia and Eva Chow, Courtney Love, Hari Nef and Soko experienced his take on the city, as he dissected and reconstructed the fruit in a variety of techniques, and artfully interpreted Asian flavors, from seaweed to Peking duck.
Bottura is also on the West Coast leg of his Phaidon book “Bread Is Gold,” inspired by his groundbreaking soup kitchen project Refettorio Ambrosiano, in which he used restaurant food waste to create gourmet dishes. The tome is aimed at home cooks using everyday ingredients. To underscore his point, he went on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” and turned the writer’s break room leftovers into haute cuisine.
“I was melting all this chocolate that was there for Valentine’s Day, and I put Cheerios inside, and I mixed chocolate and Cheerios, and I glazed a caramelized banana that I flambéed with some Bacardi that I stole from one office. They were very impressed,” he laughs.
Next, he will open Refettorios in Paris on March 15 and in Naples in April, then some in the States. He’d one day like to build one in Burkina Faso for the United Nations and an ice cream bar for kids in a refugee camp in Greece. “You need the energy, and you need a team. Without a restaurant like I have, that has such credibility, I couldn’t use the spotlight to put [attention] on different projects and help the others,” he says.
In April, he will receive an honorary degree of art from the University of Carrara, along with Maurizio Catalan. Not bad for someone who was going to be a desk jockey. He muses, “The bigger the dreams are, the more interesting it is for Gucci. So, it’s a question of dream.”