Bottura, Crippa, Marchesi: Italian chefs between food and artistic inspiration
Italy and the Arts - Art is one of those formulas that still sells after centuries, proving that the population of Italy has always had a soft spot for this form of expression, being able to also use it very well over time. As an expression of the self, art attracts a large group of creative people who are inspired by it, and, by association of ideas, since cooking and art awaken sensory perception, cuisine is one of the most expressive forms that recall visual arts and the culture of beauty (and goodness, it goes without saying).
Chefs have always been inspired by art forms of various kinds; one of the pioneers in the field is Gualtiero Marchesi, who is, to put it simply, a living pillar of contemporary Italian cuisine in the world. Always passionate about art, sculpture and architecture, the "composer cook", as he likes to be called, he uses the white background of the plate as a canvas, and has based some of his iconic dishes on fundamental artistic works over the course of his long career. Among the pantheon of traditional dishes from the Italian gastronomic tradition are "L’Uovo al Burri", an egg burned with a blowtorch (the type typically used to burn the surface of crème brûlée), which in its transformation of color and material reminds one not too subtly of works by the Umbrian artist Alberto Burri.
Inspiration goes overseas with "Fish Dripping", freely inspired by the work of Jackson Pollock, or to the East with the "Risotto with bouquet of white and black truffles", which follows the shapes and colors of Hsiao Chin, a pioneer of abstract art in China. These are compositions that trace the artist's thoughts, with a different material in his hands, in this case.
Del piemontese Massimo Crippa, chef del suo Piazza Duomo di Alba, in provincia di Cuneo, non è rara la collaborazione con artisti. Sua è la “Panna Cotta Matisse”, un classico in carta che omaggia il celebre pittore francese. Un dessert attentamente studiato nei dettagli e nel bilanciamento dei colori e dei sapori, com’è solito fare il meticoloso chef: nero = mela e liquirizia; avorio = pesca bianca; verde = pisello e menta; arancione = mango; e così via.
For the Piedmontese Massimo Crippa, chef of Piazza Duomo in Alba, in the province of Cuneo, it’s not rare to collaborate with artists. He created the "Panna Cotta Matisse", a classic menu offering that pays homage to the famous French painter. It’s a dessert carefully crafted in terms detail, color balance, and flavor, as is usual with the meticulous chef: Black = apple and licorice; ivory = white peach; green = pea and mint; orange = mango; and so on.
Bottura’s passion for art is well established: art is a means that the chef uses to "stimulate thought rather than answer questions", as emphasized by the chef's wife and gallery owner, the American Lara Gilmore. A versatile person passionate about all the forms of expression that bring good to this planet and make people think about where our society is going, Bottura has over time collected works of art by contemporary artists that particularly intrigued him with their connection to the table, tradition, or for their vision of the world.
In the dining room at Osteria Francescana, in Modena, works from some of the most diverse contemporary artists find their space, "even if we sometimes change the works, from time to time we want to give a new look to the room, or we want new ideas," continues Lara. During a recent visit to the dining room, the walls starred La Vie En Rose by Francesco Vezzoli, Table and Glass by Carlo Benvenuto, the Pistoletto mirrors, Pigeons by Maurizio Cattelan, and then Gavin Turk and Damien Hirst, the latter of whom obviously inspired one of the culinary creations of Bottura: the Psychedelic Veal, Not Grilled by Flame.
There is always a reason behind the placement of these works, which are real-life stories, anecdotes, or simple reflections. "At the Osteria Francescana, the guys in the dining room are prepared to explain to diners the works around them. It’s an opportunity for our customers to even better understand the work we do in the kitchen, with a different interpretation," concluded Lara.
But a chef is not an artist, not in the strict sense of the term. "A chef is a craftsman," affirms Bottura, with his feet firmly on the ground: an artist does what's on his mind, good or bad, it is what it is, while a chef must think primarily to prepare good food. This does not, however, prohibit seeing and exploring the beautiful side of things.
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