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Monday November 4, 2013 MYT 12:06:00 PM
Monday November 4, 2013 MYT 12:06:48 PM
Massimo Bottura's multimedia piece entitled 'Tutte le lingue del mondo'. - YouTube
Massimo Bottura references philosophers, jazz musicians and more in his food.
CONVERSATION with Massimo Bottura, hailed as the greatest chef in Italy today, requires no small amount of concentration and focus.
There is a kinetic, almost frenetic energy in his dialogue that challenges the listener to follow along as he references French philosopher Roland Barthes, jazz player Thelonious Monk, Alaskan skies, and squid ink during a discussion about food and art – all in that order.
Bottura was at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Paris to help inaugurate an exhibit about art and the culinary process which debuted in October. His contribution to the show, a multimedia piece entitled “Tutte le lingue del mondo”, plays on the notion of lingue – which means both tongue and language in Italian – with a plate of cow’s tongue.
It’s an exhibit that places food and chefs on the same plane as contemporary art and offers visitors a glimpse into the creative process of culinary masters like Ferran Adrià, Alain Passard and Bottura.
For the Modena chef, whose restaurant Osteria Francescana is ranked third on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, everything from literature, music and landscapes can be distilled into a single plate.
“Inspiration comes from everywhere,” he said during a tour of the exhibit. “If you walk with your eyes open, you can imagine anything.”
Perhaps one of the best examples of this uncanny ability to interpret random influences into edible art is his dish “Black on Black”.
Bottura tells the story of how the dish was born with wide-eyed excitement – despite having no doubt recounted the tale several times.
One night, to decompress, he retreated to his music room as per usual, where he tuned into his favourite jazz player Thelonious Monk.
“He was playing like a wild man, like a mad man,” Bottura recounts.
And it was in that moment, while listening to the strains of Monk’s improvisational madness, that his mind – which already fires on eight cylinders – went into overdrive designing what would become a monochromatic black plate of Alaskan cod dusted with powdered seaweed, suspended in a Japanese broth dyed with black squid ink.
The aim? To pursue the purity of flavor and deliver the taste of the sea without distraction.
To pay homage to Monk’s virtuoso playing, he leaves a sliver of the opaque cod – chosen because it comes from the “coldest, darkest place in the world” – undusted to evoke piano keys.
After explaining the method to his madness, Bottura turns to the reporter and asks, “You think I’m crazy, don’t you?”
It’s admittedly a bit of a circuitous route to be able to extract jazz, the Alaskan sky, and the pursuit of the sea from the plate.
But as he expands, speaking in a series of aphorisms, Bottura reveals that like his jazz hero, there is method to his madness.
“When I forget everything, I can create something new,” he says.
“We can do everything because we know everything.”
In other words, while Monk’s improvisation may sound “wild” and manic, it’s actually the result of years of practice.
Similarly, only after mastering banal cooking techniques can a chef pull off audacious dishes like Black on Black with conviction.
It’s the same principle he applies to a canvas of sardines hanging on the gallery wall in Paris.
“Look at this,” he says, stepping back from the hundreds of decapitated fish tucked in neat rows. “It’s such a humble fish, but in the right hands, it will be the best sardine you’ll ever have in your life.”
Then there’s the video exhibit called “Under Control”, in which security cameras capture banal footage of Paris chef du jour Inaki Aizpitarte of Le Chateaubriand, as he potters around in his kitchen alone.
“To me, this is unbelievable,” says Bottura. “It’s incredible because it’s what we don’t see.”
“Cookbook: L’art et le processus culinaire” runs at the Palais des Beaux-Arts until Jan 9, 2014. – AFP Relaxnews
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