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Food

Massimo Bottura - Nourishing the soul

In the process of trying to recreate a food memory, chef Massimo Bottura started a movement that was designed to fight food waste, but has grown into a social triumph.

In the opening to his latest book, Bread is Gold, Italian chef Massimo Bottura tells the story of how every morning he would fight with his brothers for the leftover bread from the previous night’s dinner to dip in warm milk with a splash of coffee and a liberal pouring of sugar. It is one of his fondest memories, reminding him of delicious food, but also time with his family and his dearly departed mother.

A few years ago, he thought about recreating the recipe, and trying to recapture that glorious memory. It was the catalyst that evolved into a concept that evolved into social change. But more on that later.

In essence, taking old food memories and recreating them is what has made Massimo famous and seen him reach the very top of the chef world. For the last few years his restaurant, Osteria Francescana in Modena on the northern outskirts of Milan, has been ranked in the top three in the world, last year, No.1, this year just behind New York’s Eleven Madison.

A culinary renaissance

At Francescana, Massimo has taken Italian classics, memories and culinary ideas and transported them into the modern world. Combing his love of art and music with his culinary talent to create dishes titled Memories of a Mortadella Sandwich, The Crunchy Part of Lasagne, and his signature Five Ages of Parmigiano Reggiano. It’s been a culinary renaissance. Of course, messing with traditional Italian cooking created quite a stir in Italy and for that measure, it is understandable that he gained recognition internationally before he was eventually praised at home.

And while Massimo has explored plenty of Italian history for his dishes, he insists he still has a wealth of heritage for future culinary inspirations, for the rest of his life, at the very least.

“Maybe for 10 lives,” he says when chatting with Lyndey Milan at a special event organised by Italian coffee company Lavazza in Sydney earlier this year. “We have centuries of tradition that we can reinterpret and rediscover.

“For instance, last autumn we created this dish detailed by a philosopher from Rome, Petronius, in a book of his. Over three pages he described an amazing dish with a beautiful big bird filled with another bird, filled with another bird, and then many small birds and then dates and figs – for me, that’s Italy.

“So this is what I say to Italian chefs when they look for the next trend. Let’s be honest. Let’s go deep into our history and try to bring the best from the past into the future, not in a nostalgic way, but in a critical way.”

A chance to make a change

These days, Massimo is lauded for his ideas and for returning Italian cuisine to the top of the culinary world. He has used his time in the spotlight to full advantage.

During Expo 2015 in Milan, Massimo was invited to cook for dignitaries. Instead, he used the opportunity to make a statement about food waste.

His initial idea was to do a short-term pop-up at the city’s central train station and invite the world’s best chefs to cook leftover food for the homeless. But then, apparently, the Pope got involved. His holiness heard the chef’s idea, but thought it could be something done long term. Through the Catholic charity Caritas, an abandoned theatre in the poorest suburb of Milan was made available for Massimo’s ‘community kitchen’.

He took the opportunity. Not wanting it to be a regular soup kitchen, he recruited well-known artists and designers to help transform the venue into a warm, inviting space, a restaurant for those who most likely have never even seen inside a Michelin-starred venue. It was named, Refettorio Ambrosiano, a Refettorio being a place where monks and nuns would eat their daily meals.

“In a world where one third of the food we produce is thrown away, we need to ask ourselves: Could food wastage and hunger be an expression of the same problem? We believe so,” Massimo asks in Bread is Gold, a diary and collection of recipes from the Refettorio Ambrosiano project.

Over the following months, more than 65 chefs turned surplus ingredients collected from the exhibition’s pavilions into nutritious meals served to the homeless and people in need in the area. Names like Ferran Adria, Rene Redzepi, Ana Ros and Alain Ducasse used their creative powers to turn discarded food into delicious dishes.

“It was challenging and rewarding to be a chef in that kitchen. It brought out the best in everyone,” says Massimo. “And it’s important to show that chefs in 2017 are not just the sum of their recipes, we are much more than that. People need to know we are social agents and we can give to the people, to the world an example.”

Nourishing the soul

Following this initial success, Massimo and his wife, Lara established Food for Soul, a non-profit organisation dedicated to nourishing the underprivileged.

The Social Tables project in Bologna followed, then Refettorio Gastromotiva in Rio, converting surplus food from the Olympic Games into healthy meals. Refettorio Felix opened in London in June and there’s plans for projects in Berlin and the United States.

“Food for Soul is not a charity project but a cultural one. Sharing a meal is not just a source of nourishment, but a gesture of inclusion,” says Massimo. “In looking for solutions to fight food waste, we found a wider impact. We became aware that a good meal in a beautiful and welcoming environment can change a community.

“Will the role of chefs define the future of food? I am an optimist and I believe that we are already making positive change. A recipe, after all, is a solution to a problem. Choose to be part of the solution by cooking and sharing a meal around a table. It might be the most revolutionary thing you do all day.”

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Food
Tobie Puttock Gets Healthy
Words by Mark Hughes on 4 Aug 2016
As far as chefs go, Tobie Puttock is far from being on the list that needs to look at his health. He’s always been fairly lean and away from the kitchen is pretty active. Admittedly, over the past years he noticed a slight spreading around his middle, but it didn’t worry him too much. What did motivate him to make a change in his life was love. His wife, Georgia, wanted to get fit, not that she was overweight, but, as Tobie says, “she wanted to achieve a body image that she was happy with.” She hit the gym, was working with a trainer and getting really good results, but then she plateaued. No matter how hard she worked, she couldn’t get over this hump. A meeting with nutritionist Donna Ashton was the key to the change. “She asked Georgia what her diet was,” says Tobie. “When she replied that her husband was a chef, Donna suggested that I go in and have a chat. “I was a bit apprehensive because I thought what we were eating was healthy food. However, Donna showed me that what I thought was healthy and what was needed for weight loss, were two different things. My idea of health food – things like quinoa salad – was heath food, but it was not ‘weight loss food’.” After reading a pile of recipe books penned by dieticians, Tobie realised that while the recipes might be great for weight loss, they were pretty bland and tasteless. So he set himself a personal challenge to create healthy dishes that also taste great. It was a process that reawakened the chef inside him, found him a publishing deal and led to a whole new lifestyle. Sitting down with Donna to devise a weight-loss plan for Georgia, Tobie created three lists – foods that you can’t eat ever, foods you can eat sometimes and foods you can eat as much of as you want. “I started cooking some dishes and, as you do these days, I put a picture of them up on social media. I got a call from Julie Gibbs from Penguin who said, ‘What the hell are you cooking here? I’ve not seen you do this before because you normally do Italian food’ Then she said, ‘Let’s do a book’. Then the fun really started.” A new horizon Tobie had been a chef for almost two decades and had graduated to the point of being a restaurateur. But the hassle of running a business coupled with the pressure of managing people had quashed his creativity in the kitchen. Taking a hiatus from the restaurant game and working on this project gave him back his culinary mojo and opened up doors he’d never considered walking through. “I realised I didn’t have to cook Italian food anymore, I could do whatever I wanted,” says Tobie. “It really took a while to get my head around trying to make things taste good without using heaps of butter and olive oil and without the deep fryer. I haven’t reinvented the wheel, but for me personally, it was a huge learning curve and a big thing to happen in my cooking. “So I found writing this book to be a huge creative process and I really enjoyed it. The most satisfying part was seeing the results for Georgia. She lost 10 kilos of body fat through the writing of the book – she wasn’t big to begin with, but she managed to smash through her plateau.” Don’t mention the word diet There is a saying that dieting is like holding your breath – at some stage you have to let it out to breathe. Tobie affirms his recipes are more lifestyle than diet. “I still love eating chocolate, I still drink beer, but now I do it in moderation,” he says. “All I have done is take dishes that are familiar to us and re-jigged them by lowering the fat and carb levels. “This means that in the book, there are basically no carbs, there is not a potato in the whole book, but there are beautiful sweet potato dishes in there. I tried to make dishes that taste good to try to over-ride the desire for things like potatoes.” As well as healthy recipes that taste great, another important aspect of the book, and his change in eating, is the fact that ingredients are accessible and cheap. “I want people to be able to cook most of the recipes in this book from your local supermarket, so the ingredients are accessible and dishes are easy to make. “I am not trying to get people to give up everything, because the most important thing is to be happy, and happiness comes through balance. But if you cook from this book a few times a week, you are going to get results.” The Chef Gets Healthy by Tobie and Georgia Puttock is out now on Penguin (RRP $39.99).
Life
My City - Sydney with Neil Perry
Words by Neil Perry on 6 Dec 2017
Neil Perry, The Rockpool Group ’s Culinary Director and a chef who has helped shape the food scene in Sydney, reveals where he likes to eat & drink in his hometown. Sydney is a very beautiful city with its harbour and gorgeous white beaches, but it’s so much more than just a pretty face. The restaurants and bars are second to none and they give Sydney a beautiful personality. The city has changed so much over the last 10 years and if you add in Chinatown, some amazing places are all within walking distance. I regularly dine at Rockpool Dining Group restaurants so they feature genuinely in my top picks. My favourite bar in Sydney, hands down, is the bar at Rockpool Bar & Grill . My wife, Sam, and I like to go and enjoy a great bottle of wine, or a fantastic cocktail, or both, while we chat with the bar guys and soak up the amazing buzzy atmosphere. We’ll have some beautiful freshly shucked Sydney Rock oysters, all iodine and tasting fresh of the sea, our favourite minute steak with café de Paris butter, the Cape Grim beef full of flavour and perfectly tender, and we always share a number of sides like roast pumpkin, grilled corn, shoe string fries and a salad. It doesn’t get any better. Breakfast and beyond
Room 10 is the best place in Sydney for coffee and breakfast . Andrew Hardjasudarma and his team not only make some of Sydney’s best coffee, but the food out of such a tiny space is nothing short of miraculous. My go-to is the classic soft boiled egg and avocado on toast, or any of the brilliant breakfast sandwiches - the slow cooked brisket with slaw and pickles is probably their signature. I also love the Brekkie Rice, which is perfect for a healthy start: creamed red rice, quinoa, walnuts and pepitas topped with dukkha. Chaco Bar is without doubt the best yakitori place in town, but it also has next level ramen – served Monday nights and Wednesday to Saturday, lunches only. Go for the chilli coriander – it’s spicy and full flavoured with such a fresh delicious cleanness to it. Add an organic egg: they are awesome! The yakitori skin is crunchy, smoky and creamy all at once and the wing and chicken meatball with slow cooked egg are a must. They also serve the best gyozas. Are you getting that I love this place? Wash it down with a beer and sake and say hi to Chef Keita, we’re lucky to have him in Sydney. Azuma is another terrific Japanese restaurant in the city owned by Kimitaka Azuma. Here we go for sushi and sashimi, which is so well made, and the best dish of all is the wagyu sukiyaki for two. We love sitting sipping sake as I cook our beef slice by slice in the boiling soy broth. We add tofu, bok choy, mushroom and spring onions, all the time cooking another strip of beef and dipping it, eating with rice and then at the end adding udon noodles to the broth. Such a great one pot dish.  Masterful Dim Sum Another favourite from our own portfolio is Jade Temple . I love having the dumplings for lunch, made fresh daily by our Dim Sum Master, Dicky. They’re always so perfectly balanced in taste and texture and I can’t get enough of the roast duck either. Golden Century is famous for being a chef haunt and I was one of the first eating there along with Tetsuya way back in 1990. We all loved the place as it was open late and the food was always fabulous. All these years later, nothing much has changed, only I don’t eat late anymore, I’m in bed well before 3am these days! Sam and I love the green lip abalone steam boat. This is another great one pot dish for two people to share. We get noodles and tofu with it to make the perfect meal. The abalone arrives thinly sliced on lettuce and we have soy dipping and a little XO sauce. The slices are dipped for seconds and added to the soy in your bowl, then start with tofu, then noodles and finish with lettuce, just keep adding broth and seasoning to the bowl as you eat, drinking the soup from time to time. This is one of the world’s great meals, you may even see owners Eric and Linda wandering around. Fire in the Heart Mike McEnearney’s No. 1 Bent Street is a treat. It’s everything I love: no fuss, awesome produce, seasonal cooking and loads of love and care. Everything on the menu is great, but you have to try the bread, it’s possibly the best in Sydney, and anything off the grill or out of the wood fired oven, which form the heart of the kitchen. I love Mike’s touch with vegetables, so order a bunch of salad and veg dishes and eat one of the best plant-based meals in town.
Danielle Alverez at Fred’s in Paddington is another chef cooking beautiful, sustainable, seasonal produce with fire at the heart of the kitchen. Try to score a seat at the kitchen bench: a great spot to share a bottle of wine, watch the kitchen in full swing and eat some of the best food in Sydney. With her pedigree of Chez Panisse and The French Laundry, it’s no surprise everything is delicious. Add a wonderful wine list and beautiful, simple decor and you can settle in for long lunches and dinners. Cheap eats and BBQ Burger Project is a weekly stop for me as well. The Cape Grim 36-month beef is ground in store, hand-formed into patties, and cooked medium – they’re unsurpassed in the city. Naruone is great for a cheap Korean bite. My favourite is the spicy pork with rice. It comes on a sizzling platter with pork slices, cabbage, carrots, onions and sesame seeds after being wok fried in gochujang. It’s spicy and delicious and perfect with a beer. The KFC, Korean Fried Chicken, is really very good too. Dan Jee is my favourite Korean BBQ place . They cook it in the kitchen over a big charcoal grill, rather than at table-side grills, so it gets more of a smoky flavour. Short rib, pork belly and bulgogi are my go-to dishes. I can’t eat there without having Yukhoe, the Korean raw beef salad. It’s amazing with julienne frozen beef, Asian pear egg yolk and sweet sesame dressing that’s perfectly balanced. Further reading:  The Best BYO Restaurants in Sydney
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