Tuesday, March 19, 2013

A Visit from a Three-Starred Michelin Chef

“I love the kitchen because it can take you across new continents or bring you back to your grandmother’s stove top.”
These are the humble words of Massimo Bottura, a three-starred Michelin chef, who visited The International Culinary Center on March 4 to showcase Italy’s best regional flavors. And for the lucky ones who sat around the table, and tasted his "Come to Italy with Us," a six-course tasting menu, all you wanted to do was send his grandmother a thank-you note for introducing him to the kitchen. Let me explain.
Almond granita
Almonds, bergamot (think: the citrus fruit responsible for earl grey tea), coffee, capers and lemon powder. These were the opening flavors to the night, and they were magically combined to create a granita--shaved ice usually reserved for dessert. But Chef Bottura turned this combination into the perfect palate cleanser. He put some of the most beautiful flavors of Italy into a dessert made mostly of water, and had us panting for more, which was probably his point: We were salivating for the next five courses. 
Cacio e Pepe Risotto
The night was a choreography of impressive plates that ignited all the senses. But one that really captured our tongues and imaginations was a cacio e pepe risotto, which isn’t shocking for an Italian meal, but most chefs resort to slowly puffing their grains in some sort of stock. Not Chef Bottura. He slowly cooked Parmigiano Reggiano to render its sacred juices, and used that as a broth to cook his risotto. 
Chef Bottura holding up his Parm broth
Then he walked around to each guest and personally dusted their plates with the essence of pepper. It was like witnessing a magic show. 
Chef Bottura spritzing "pepper essence" on the plate
But we shouldn’t have been surprised by this ingenious technique. Chef Bottura’s culinary genius doesn’t just stem from pure talent, but from mentoring from legends like Chef Alain Ducasse and Chef Ferran Adrià. And when Chef Bottura finished his stage with Chef Ducasse, this culinary legend tore Chef Bottura’s notebook in half, and told him, “You don’t need this. You have it all inside you. Now make it your own.” And that’s exactly what he’s done.

Today, Chef Bottura is the owner and chef of Osteria Francescana, a three-starred Michelin restaurant that holds fourth place in the S.Pellegrino 50 World’s Best Restaurants and has been voted the best restaurant in Italy for three consecutive years. He's touring through the United States hoping to promote Italy's culinary gems. 
“I hope to be part of a revived Italy, a proud Italy, an economically secure and creatively supported Italy. There is still so much to be discovered here: tasted, touched and seen. This project is the first step in realigning our culinary values with our cultural values. My legacy as a chef is an ambassador for the Italian kitchen making sure that there is plenty of space to grow by seeing our past from a critical point of view not a nostalgic one,” says Chef Bottura, according to a press release. 
The night finished with a deconstructed idea of a tiramisu, which was the best tiramisu that we ever tasted. The coffee flavor stood alone while a mysterious crumble (almost akin to astronaut's food, but palatable) broke up the smooth, airy textures of the cream. By the end of this extensive meal, we were wooed by this talented chef and thankful we were able to taste his food. 

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