Massimo Bottura and friends on the importance of beauty

Chef Massimo Bottura in Sydney earlier this year.
Chef Massimo Bottura in Sydney earlier this year. Photo: Mark Best

Editor's letter

It was April when Massimo Bottura came into our Sydney office. We had several hours with the world's best chef (his restaurant Osteria Francescana is No. 1 on the World's 50 Best restaurant list) and we needed to nut out a plan. Bottura had agreed to collaborate on a special issue of Good Food; we were keen to hear his ideas.

The subject of beauty came up repeatedly. It underpins everything Bottura does, from his groundbreaking Modena restaurant to his global network of kitchens to feed people in need.

Bottura also has a global network of friends, in very high places. He casually talked of lunching with the Obamas and collaborating with superstar artists such as JR, the French "photograffeur" (with 1.2 million Instagram followers), then he came up with the idea of asking them to contribute to Good Food. So over the following weeks, he emailed some mates – Andrea Bocelli, Alain Ducasse, Luca Barilla, JR, Patti Smith (who did not end up filing before she went on tour) and both the creative director and CEO of Gucci to ask them to submit their musings on beauty.

The chef will be back in Australia in early August when he begins a nationwide tour in Perth on August 6 and coming to Sydney on August 8 and Melbourne on August 10. For tickets go to ticketmaster.com.au

We highly recommend you hear what he has to say.

Massimo Bottura: 'God needs beauty to convey its message.'
Massimo Bottura: 'God needs beauty to convey its message.' Photo: Callo Albanese and Sueo

Ardyn Bernoth, national editor, Good Food

Massimo Bottura used his guest collaboration with Good Food to ask his friends, some of the world's most influential names, to reflect on what beauty means to them. For Bottura, beauty is the driving force behind his work feeding people, both rich and poor, and in fighting food waste.

Massimo Bottura

Chef at the world's No. 1 restaurant, Osteria Francescana, co-founder of Food for Soul, a nonprofit cultural organisation?advocating for community empowerment and equitable food systems.

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There's no beauty without an ethical purpose. Beauty has the power to communicate at a higher level, it can be perceived by anyone and can move people's spirits. The good and the beautiful are two sides of the same coin, they complete each other at the point that beauty without good isn't beautiful at all, and good needs beauty to convey its message.

When we opened the first Refettorio [the community kitchens of Food for Soul] we aimed to address the issue of food waste through cooking and engage the community and those most in need. We did this through beauty. By creating welcoming, well lit and well-designed spaces and gathering diverse people around the dining table we were able to restore dignity and a sense of belonging.

Cooking is about transformation. Real beauty is seeing the value in something that might not seem to have any value at all. Something recovered is something gained. When you are able to see beauty even through obstacles, beauty turns into potential and potential becomes treasure.

Ethics and aesthetics go hand in hand

L. Wittgenstein

The Bread is Gold cookbook came out of the amazing experiences of cooking with chefs around the world who shared this philosophy and vision of the transformative power of cooking. Recipe after recipe, we see the determination to make do and turn what could be considered ugly into something beautiful. Each recipe is an ode to imperfection. The ingredients are ordinary but the recipes are extraordinary. They are living proof that cooking is a call to act. Recipes can change the way we look at the world.

Who is to say that a pesto made with popcorn or with breadcrumbs, instead of pine nuts, is any less? Did you know that you can make a ragout out of almost anything and everything? A recipe is a magical process of evolution. Only through trial and error can you test your limits. Actually, traditional recipes are often the result of a fabulous mistake or an experiment gone right in which the unexpected became a delicious meal… and therefore was repeated again and again and again.

Food waste is one of the greatest challenges of this century. Nobody likes to look in the trash bin or see what a grocery store is throwing away and yet, we all, chefs, farmers, bankers, merchants, students, scientists, artists all have a responsibility to make our future on this planet more sustainable. But this future begins in the trash bin and it begins with believing in the power of beauty to transform. Individually each of us can make a small difference; together we can make change. And through beauty, good food becomes food for good.

Marco Bizzarri & Alessandro Michele, president and chief executive officer of Gucci and creative director of Gucci.

Marco Bizzarri (left) and Alessandro Michele of Gucci. Photo: Supplied

Alessandro Michele and Marco Bizzarri

Creative director of Gucci, and ?president and chief executive officer of Gucci.

MB When our friend Massimo called me to have a conversation amongst us about beauty, it reminded me of the first time we spoke – when we didn't know each other just yet – and among the many things that struck me about you was a comment you made on beauty. You told me that beauty is freedom, even to make mistakes.

AM For me, the freedom to make mistakes is the most essential form of freedom, both in life and fashion. And in making mistakes, who determines what is right and wrong? If everything is right and perfect according to common standards, to me it seems artificial, somehow mechanical. Beauty is truth! Just like listening to live music, a wrong note, out of sync, makes the performance more human, I would never exchange that with a cold and perfect performance of a symphony or of a song that I love.

MB I'm not a CEO who thinks he's also creative, my work is different and I would never think of being able to do yours; nonetheless, not only do I understand what you're saying but I completely embrace it as well. I always invite the people I work with not to worry about mistakes and not to be held back by the fear of failure. With this mindset, "more beautiful", unconventional and not conformed business visions/models are created. Think of our brand and how focused it was on the jet set!

AM That no longer exists in that sense and definition!

MB Exactly. Today it no longer exists; it's no longer regarded as beauty in a world that has changed so much. Beauty – like kindness – is a value. I believe that beauty cannot be arrogant.

AM My mother was a woman from the 50s, very elegant, always impeccable: she couldn't understand how I could like cinema in the 70s where the vision of beauty of actresses and actors was very different from the one she was used to. I believe that beauty cannot have only one meaning and among the many that I attribute to it, there is certainly that of diversity. Lack of homologation, resistance to homologation.

MB You told me something about the 70s after the fashion show in Paris that stuck in my mind. Before the start of the show, you projected a video of Leo de Berardinis and Perla Peragallo – two experimental theatre actors from the 70s who did their shows in basements and in farms in the countryside. Many believed that the video was produced for the fashion show, not that it was from more than 40 years ago. You told me: Leo and Perla don't live in the past, they live here with us, they breathe with us, today they were here. The artists have been dead for years, but you made me think it was true, they were there with us. I found it a beautiful thought.

AM Leo and Perla, created something magical from their mistakes. Their images resonate within us in a contemporary way: everything is essential in the world, to give meaning to our today. If we can all breathe in the same way for a moment, that is beauty for me.

MB You are spoiling us with beauty, with this beauty that is not objectified and that is based on our personal expressions. Working in the industry of "the beautiful" for many years, I learnt that beauty is a full value and it's full of meanings, it cannot be undervalued and associated to goods or to a single aesthetic. It is really something that shakes the souls, a kind gesture, personal attention.

AM You are perfectly right Marco... do you think this conversation will be "beautiful" enough for Massimo? LOL

Luca Barilla

Italian businessman and chairman of Barilla Group, the world's largest pasta company.

For me, "beauty" has a special meaning. It takes me back to a time, albeit long ago, that comes to mind on a daily basis. The memory is of the relationship with my Dad and how, despite the age difference, we managed to share moments in our lives, emotions, thoughts and decisions. Of course, our relationship was not always idyllic, but it was in essence an extraordinary experience that has left its mark on me. This still lights my way ahead today, even all these years later.

When he would come home in the evening and sit down to dinner with us, he often talked about the future, with hopes for the family, plans, work, and wellbeing for people and communities. Those moments also conveyed to us the fundaments of our craft, teaching us to "give to people the same as we would to our own children". This was his way to tell us that, along with good food, we must provide a little beauty. Taste without beauty is nothing but flavour. In fact, for him, beauty was also an expression of a people's culture and its good, healthy foods. Beauty was the result of work intended to respect humanity and the environment. He thus taught us that beauty in food also lies in how it is prepared, packaged and sold. Thanks to him, we understand that dining together is essential, not only to provide nutrition and life but also to bring us comfort and communication.

One day, a friend, unaware of all this, wrote me a message that perfectly sums up the importance of the ritual of sharing dinner with your family around the table: "At the table, we dream, we fight, we make up, we make plans for the future. All at the table." As I remember it, those moments were the first time I experienced beauty in my life. It has the same effect when I now relive those moments with my wife and our children.

The sense of family is a treasure deeply rooted in the soul of Italians. It must be defended and cultivated, being as it is the only way to ensure protection and serenity, all the while warding off the distress of isolation and the fragility and sadness it causes.

Years ago, I was struck by a quote from Auguste Rodin, which I keep in a treasured notebook of mine that I like to go back to from time to time: "There is really neither beautiful style, nor beautiful drawing, nor beautiful colour; there is but one sole beauty, that of the truth which is revealed." For me, this quotation sums up beauty. At the end of the day, it is the truth that counts. In our lives, the beauty and truth of the family is paramount.

French photographer and  artist JR poses in front the Louvre Pyramid in Paris, Tuesday, May 24, 2016. For his latest bold project, street artist JR is creating an eye-tricking installation at the Louvre Museum that makes it seem as if the huge glass pyramid at the heart of the courtyard has disappeared. (AP Photo/Francois Mori) Francois Mori /AP?

French photographer and artist JR. Photo: AP

JR

Pseudonym of a French photographer and artist. He posts black-and-white images in public locations. In March he reimagined the Louvre pyramid in a 3D optical illusion.

I think my definition of beauty is the memory of my friend Agnes Varda [Belgian-born French film director, photographer and artist] and the way she looked at life at 90 years old. She passed away a couple of weeks ago, and I think that one of the things that I will always remember from her is her ability to see beauty in everything. Sometimes you need bit of energy to see beauty because, when you sit in a restaurant, when you sit in a place, and you're in a hurry, you want to order food, or you want to, you know, eat quickly because your stomach is empty... she was the perfect example of how you have to take a moment, breathe, and look at the table, look at the walls, look at the lamps, look at the flowers, whatever was there around her... and then describe it.

And it's funny because I was always the one looking for the menu and try to find a waiter to, at least, have some bread and butter to start, and she would say: "Oh, look at this... look at this flower, do you know a story about this flower? They only exist in the South of France, and they bloom only a couple of times a year..." She would find something, she would always have a story, for everything. It would be the napkin, it would be the fork... always something. And it's funny because, now that I think about it, that's what reminds me of her, she would sit anywhere, and take that time. For example, when she used to stay at my place in New York, before she would leave, when I went to tell her her car was there, she would be sitting next to the door, in her bedroom. I said "What are you doing?", and she said "I stay, one second to look around me before I go". She told me ... I think it was a Russian thing, to take the time, to say goodbye to the room you were in.

I think about all those moments, all the moments we take to admire and to take the time to actually contemplate... and maybe see beauty, maybe not, but actually take the time. This is something that I'm trying to do, especially in a moment where we live like crazy, with sms and notifications every two seconds, and the ability to run from a place to another without loosing a second... I think that was a kind of an "old trip" from another time that she brought into our era and that I'm going to try to make survive as much as I can, so that I can see beauty in everything.

Alain Ducasse

?Ducasse was the first chef to own restaurants carrying three Michelin stars in three cities and is one of only two chefs to hold 21 Michelin stars throughout his career.

Beauty is a state of mind. There is common beauty that we can all agree about, like sunsets or some design... but the truth is: we can see beauty in anything we want. That's why some people find beauty in cracks on the pavement, or in a potato that is degrading – this was Agnes' favourite collection, finding potatoes and letting them germinate and seeing that they completely changed their shape. That's where she found beauty. Whenever you're ready to see beauty in anything, then your whole perception of things changes and I think that's the real lesson I've learned from Agnes.

Beauty is a compass. It indicates the true north of sentiment and make us reach the human hearts.

Beauty is a destination. We must be constantly heading to beauty be it only because the journey will often bring considerable satisfactions.

Beauty is everywhere. In a sweet fruit as well as in the colours of wine, in the shape of a spoon as well as in the softness of a tablecloth.

Beauty is a gesture. The cook's gesture peeling a vegetable is as perfect as a trace of the painter's brush on the canvas.

Beauty is a surprise. Beauty is always to be reinvented. New lines and colours create new memories.

Beauty is a gift. Spread beauty around you and you'll be paid back millions of times with love.

Beauty is fragile and potent. The slightest faux pas can ruin the most brilliant project; the strength of an idea can entirely change the picture.

Beauty is a message. Beauty does not lie. It talks to the soul, openly, directly and honestly.

Beauty is optimism. Beauty brings the evidence that the world can be a little more civilised.

Portrait of British interior designer Ilse Crawford, at Duddell's Art Centre in Central. 23MAY13  [ 07JUNE2013 BROADSHEET ARTS] (Photo by Jonathan Wong/South China Morning Post via Getty Images) ***EMBARGOED FOR GOOD FOOD, JUNE 25/19 ISSUE***
cr: Getty Images (supplied image, one time print & online use, no archiving, no syndication)

British interior designer Ilse Crawford - "Beauty exists outside the measurable standards of today." Photo: Getty Images

Ilse Crawford and Paco Pena

Designer, academic, creative director and founder of Studioilse in London, and designer and creative director (Pena pictured right).

Beauty is an unfashionable word in today's world. It is seen as subjective, elitist, expensive, My experience is exactly the opposite.

In London we have just finished the Anna Freud Centre, a child mental health research, training and therapy centre. There, talking to the parents' committee, one parent said to me, "Im so glad they got you involved. Sometimes when it is really tough all I want to do is look at something beautiful". Yet these kind of projects often view beauty as inappropriate, and even a waste of money. In On beauty by Elaine Scarry, she notes that Matisse never hoped to save lives, but he repeatedly said that he wanted to make paintings so serenely beautiful that when one came upon them, suddenly all problems would subside.

At the Food for Soul project that we worked on in London with Massimo, Refettorio Felix, I asked one of the users whether he thought the effort to make the space beautiful had been worthwhile. He said, "What we like about it is that it shows that someone cares." This sense of care and attention cuts across class and cultures. In Ett Hem, a small upscale hotel in Stockholm, its focus on a gentle, kind and quiet beauty creates a special atmosphere, one that brings the guests together.

Beauty exists outside the measurable standards of today. It is unquantifiable, irrational, and intangible. Scarry also quotes the philosopher Kant, who said that, unlike all other pleasures, the pleasure we take in beauty is inexhaustible.

No matter how long beautiful things endure, they cannot out-endure our longing for them.

Andrea Bocelli

?Andrea Bocelli is an Italian opera singer, songwriter, and record producer. David Foster, a record producer, often describes Bocelli's voice as the most beautiful in the world.

The goodness of beauty has always fascinated me, the beauty of goodness moves me... because I believe that beauty is a breach through which the transcendent can be glimpsed, another name we can give to goodness.

I feel that it is both a privilege and responsibility to have been born and raised in a nation immersed in that "civilisation of beauty" that includes landscapes, art, inventiveness, food and sentiment. Italy is a country rich in stimuli and inspirations, with an incredible heritage, all kinds of artistic treasures and a variety of unparalleled landscapes.

The richness of natural beauties and the masterpieces safeguarded within its borders never ceases to amaze me and makes me proud. And it is an honour to be able to share, through my profession, the real treasure trove of wonders that is the Italian opera repertoire, the result of the creativity of geniuses of the calibre of Giuseppe Verdi, Giacomo Puccini, Pietro Mascagni and many others. Music that is able to speak to the heart, to let us experience beauty, just as you can feel it in the homeland of Bel Canto (and in the operas of many enlightened Italian painters, sculptors and poets).

All art, the voice of the soul, breaks down every barrier and teaches us about beauty, contributing to our development as human beings and our spiritual progress, restoring faith in the future and making us better people.

Asked to reflect on the issue, I cannot help but name, by way of example, two brilliant figures and extraordinary ambassadors of beauty, my fellow Italians and some of the most sublime protagonists of the Renaissance. Michelangelo Buonarroti, the tireless apostle of beauty (after him, the artist behind David and the cycle of frescoes in the Sistine Chapel, Western art would never be the same) and Leonardo da Vinci, of whose death the 500th anniversary is being celebrated in the coming weeks... he was a titan who Italy had the honour to count among its children: painter, sculptor, inventor, architect, engineer, scientist and one of the greatest geniuses of all time. Passing in 1519, Leonardo left this earth with a legacy that captivates us and was a game-changer who paved the way to the modern age, redefining the meaning of culture, music, technique and art.

I believe that the new millennium also requires a new Renaissance that will push mankind to give the best of itself, to meet each other half-way, to create and celebrate beauty, not only for beauty's sake, but also for the common good. In this sense, I remain an optimist and I think that we can still learn a lot from our great predecessors and anyone who speaks to us – through their behaviour – of dignity, poetry, sentiment and intelligence applied to the dreams and needs of mankind.

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