Chef Massimo Bottura serves Italian produce at a seven-course dinner, priced at ₹55,555 per head, at Delhi’s Leela Palace hotel

Celebrated as one of the world’s best chefs, Massimo Bottura’s seven course menu at The Leela Palace hotel was priced at about ₹55,555 per head. And it sold out in minutes

April 25, 2023 04:28 pm | Updated April 27, 2023 03:45 pm IST

Massimo Bottura cooking live at Le Cirque 

Massimo Bottura cooking live at Le Cirque  | Photo Credit: Culinary Culture

“I have butterflies in my stomach! I have never cooked in Delhi and don’t know what to expect!” It is hard to imagine the world’s greatest chef getting nervous about dinner. But then, for Massimo Bottura, every meal he cooks is equally important.

Massimo is known for many things: resurrecting Italian cuisine, treating his menus like an orchestra, and above all, his generosity and kindness. Of his restaurants, the three-Michelin-starred, two-time winner of Best Restaurant in the World (by The Worlds 50 Best Restaurants), 12-seater Osteria Francescana in Modena, Italy, remains the most coveted.

And it was a menu from this restaurant that the chef brought to Delhi to whip up two exclusive dinners last week, in association with Culinary Culture and the Leela Palace Hotel. With only 60 covers per service, the seven-course meals at the Leela’s Le Cirque, were priced at approx. ₹55,555 each, and (INR 65,555 with tax, alcohol extra) were sold out within minutes of opening with a long waiting list.

A dish from the pesto course 

A dish from the pesto course  | Photo Credit: Culinary Culture

The seven-course degustation menu featured two of the most iconic creations of Massimo: The Crispy Part of the Pasta, which is inspired by the memories of his childhood, and Oops! I Dropped the Lemon Tart, known for its accidental creation when a sous chef actually dropped a tart. 

Guests included actor Sonam Kapoor, and her husband, entrepreneur Anand Ahuja, as well as journalists Vir Sanghvi and Seema Goswami, who were also instrumental in bringing Massimo to the capital. Both dinners opened with a welcome speech by the chef and an aperitivo made of his famed Parmigiano Reggiano and balsamic vinegar from Modena.

Other courses included dishes like Pasta al Pesto in Abstract, the iconic Ligurian pesto reimagined without pasta; a spin painted cod which is also a tribute to artist Damien Hirst’s canvases; and The Strawberry Fields, his take on The Beatles’ song with the finest ingredients from across Italy. (The team travelled to India with most of the ingredients.) 

Seasonal ingredients, familiar flavours 

Long before it became fashionable, Massimo was cooking according to seasons. This, he believes, is the only way to cook and so menus in his restaurants change frequently to accommodate seasonal ingredients. “In Italy, the produce changes every 25 days — from peas to fava beans to string beans to asparagus,” he chuckles animatedly while sharing how his kitchen works hard to accommodate fresh produce on a daily basis.

Dishes by Massimo Bottura

Dishes by Massimo Bottura | Photo Credit: Culinary Culture

This adaptability reflected in his cooking in India, where he has cooked twice before (in 2017 and 2022, in Mumbai). “I had never done a lamb ragout before but as soon I knew I was coming to Delhi, I wanted to do that,” he says, adding that it took a month and multiple trials to get the “perfect roundness of flavour and umami.”

Cooking for The Refettorios 

While seats at the the chef’s restaurants might be on the wish list of gourmands across the world, (his restaurants see 6-month long wait list), it is his free soup kitchens, that set him apart. He prefers to call these Refettorios (referring to the traditional dining-halls for monks and students). They began when in 2015, at the Milan Expo, when he decided to cook for the homeless in the city using surplus ingredients, drawing attention to two important issues — food wastage and hunger. “Food has to be protected and we do not waste food.” he says, adding, “We use all the surplus and imperfect ingredients to make amazing meals at our Refettorios — appetisers, pastas, desserts…”

These double us as community spaces that ‘re-build’. The guests are greeted by their names and served in fine crockery. “I want to change the perception of soup kitchens and make them more presentable,” he says while quoting his favourite line, “you do not bring a revolution by beauty, but you need beauty to rebuild. We are using this motto to make the marginalised feel important — and tell them that we will take care of them.” Cooking for these ‘fragile souls’, Massimo adds, is far more challenging than cooking for the biggest celebrities, “because they are not used to kindness”.

The Crispy Part of the Pasta

The Crispy Part of the Pasta | Photo Credit: Culinary Culture

Responsibility beyond the kitchen 

The chef’skindness extends beyond his guests. Today, he knows each one of his chefs personally and tries to focus on their individual needs as much as be their mentor. “When I was a young apprentice, I was treated like the last piece of garbage in the kitchen. It was a good experience because it taught me what not to do,” he says.

This personal equation is evident in the smallest of his gestures: be it introducing the youngest member of his team to the media or sharing the names of all the chefs travelling with him.  

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