Massimo Bottura is seemingly always on the go.
By the time the renowned Italian chef arrived in Park City, Utah, in mid-December, he had spent six weeks flying around the world, from Mexico to New York, Paris, Miami, and Dubai. Scattered among those stops were numerous returns to his hometown of Modena in northern Italy to visit his famed three-star-Michelin restaurant, Osteria Francescana (which was named best restaurant in the world not once, but twice, by the World’s 50 Best Restaurants group in 2016 and 2018), as well as his beloved 18th-century country house, Casa Maria Luigia.
So when Bottura settled in for the three-day Taste of Luxury food and wine series at the Empire Canyon Lodge, nestled into the majestic mountains of Deer Valley ski resort, you’d think jet lag and exhaustion would have bogged him down. Just the opposite. With unbounding energy, the effusive Bottura regaled a room with colorful stories about the origins of his greatest hits, which would be served that evening. Whether it was reminiscing over his grandmother’s lasagna for the “Crunchy Part of the Lasagna” or how a mistake in the kitchen years ago became “Oops … I Dropped the Lemon Tart,” each dish’s story saw Bottura moving around with joyful intensity as the guests hung on his every word.
VinePair sat down with the iconic chef just before he plunged into a VIP meet-and-greet. We discussed new endeavors, a potential dream bourbon project with Matthew McConaughey, and Italian wines he thinks people need to know more about.
[Editor’s note: This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.]
1. How did you spend the holidays with the Francescana team?
We share this wine called Difesa della Natura, which is inspired by [German artist] Joseph Beuys. It’s a 100 percent Chardonnay from Cantina della Volta that grows on a very small sunny hill with beautiful terroir. It’s like the four different parts of Joseph Beuys’ [philosophy], with one big oak on the label that is a symbol of longevity; some rosemary on the side that is a symbol of fecundity; bay leaf [represents] the glory of the emperor; and roses that, even when they are dead, remind you not to get lost in everyday life because they pinch you.
2. With the holidays, people love celebrating with sparkling wine. Do you have a favorite?
I would go for Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé. It’s incredible — like drinking the juice of strawberry.
3. And what do you like to pair it with?
It’s amazing with a plate of tortellini. Instead of parmigiano, you have a tortellini with classic broth and a touch of brut rosé inside the chicken broth. Drink the tortellini and the broth with the rosé. It’s [a riff on] an old style of eating tortellini: with a glass of Lambrusco that gives a little bit of acidity.
4. Speaking of Lambrusco, do you think it’s having a moment?
Lambrusco is so big in Italy. Everybody wants Lambrusco because the new producers — the younger generations of the old producers like Chiarli, Cavicchioli, Bellei, Paltrinieri — they’re very, very good. And they search for quality and not quantity. The Lambrusco they are serving now are really high quality.
All summer we had Hollywood stars in Casa Maria Luigia. And all summer they were asking for Lambrusco. At one point I said to Justin Timberlake, “You really like Lambrusco, no?” He was there with Jessica Biel and they were really into Lambrusco and parmigiano. At Maria Luigia, the welcome [bags] in every room include a bottle of Lambrusco and a 36-month aged parmigiano. It’s a way to promote the terroir, because balsamic vinegar, Lambrusco, parmigiano, mortadella, culatello, and prosciutto — they all come from the food valley where I’m from. But people don’t realize that everything comes from Modena. They don’t realize the incredible quality.
5. But everyone knows about balsamic vinegar from Modena, surely?
No one knows what [real] balsamic vinegar is ‘til they try. I was with Matthew McConaughey and we were tasting balsamic vinegar from different ages. It went so crazy. He said, “How can we evolve this kind of approach to my bourbon?” He’s really into bourbon. And I said, “Listen, why don’t we use some of the barrels that we use with balsamic vinegar, move them to Kentucky, and age some bourbon in them? He said, “Let’s do it. Let’s do it. Let’s do it.”
6. So is that actually happening?
I would love to do that. I would do this just to have fun. It’s great.
7. Are there any new projects for you on the horizon?
At Torno Subito in Dubai, we got a Michelin star in a place where we do pizza on the beach. Michelin realized that we are doing pizza in a different way — with the right flour, mozzarella we fly [out] three times a week, and San Marzano tomatoes. We have 200 covers every day. In a few months we’re gonna open on the rooftop of the [historic 1936] Walgreen building close to the Olympia Theater in downtown Miami. The rooftop is gonna have exactly the same feeling as Dubai. It’s like, Fellini — “8 ½,” “The Circus,” “La Dolce Vita” — that kind of very easy approach, but beautiful, beautiful design.
8. What Italian wine regions are you excited about now?
Right now? Abruzzo. I have a vertical of Valentini [Trebbiano d’Abruzzo] in Osteria. You open one and it’s like, ‘Wow!’ Everybody is crazy about Valentini.
9. Speaking of Abruzzo, what do you think about Pecorino wine?
Beppe [Giuseppe Palmieri, Osteria Francescana restaurant manager and sommelier] has been my director for 22 years at Francescana. He was the first one who exposed Pecorino to the world. And it’s getting big now. Very, very big.
10. What are some Italian varietals American drinkers need to pay attention to? What others are emerging?
Emerging? Trebbiano di Spagna is usually used for balsamic vinegar but there’s a few producers now making a Spumante Classico Italiano in the hills of Modena. That’s very interesting. We are serving that as an introduction at Cavallino, the new restaurant that we have in partnership with Ferrari. Pecorino is another one. And I always love Sicilian wines. If you go to Etna, you get those kinds of mineral wines with the lavic terroir.