More than 100 years ago Michelin, the French travel-guide company, began. In 1931 it instituted a star rating system to identify a select few restaurants that exhibit culinary excellence. These restaurants are considered special enough to note when planning a trip.Starred restaurants are considered the finest in the world. Three Stars–the best, indicates “Exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey.”
Most Michelin starred restaurants are still found in France and in a few cities in Europe. (The reviewers didn’t come to the states until 2005 and then only to New York, Chicago and the Bay Area.) When it comes to well-prepared food (and probably everything else), the French are pretty sure that they do it best. Yet a somewhat modest restaurant in Modena Italy, Osteria Francescana, has been awarded Michelin Stars three different times. The last time it was awarded three stars. In 2009 it was ranked 13th in the world. In 2014 it is number three.
Osteria Francescana’s Massimo Bottura is a chef who expects his food to express or “to transfer” emotions. He says, “For me, culture is at the heart of the Italian kitchen and the kitchen is at the heart of our culture. I like to tell stories through ingredients and traditions that inform the flavor and bring it to life.”
He also is intensely interested in innovation which stems primarily from an openness to whatever might occur in the process. He believes that to leave space for the unexpected is crucial for cooking great food (and for making great art).
He defines himself as someone who grew up in the land of fast cars and slow food. He learned to do things, as he describes, very quick and very slow—”That means to have a quick thought, but do it slowly.” The two traditions set up a tension, a duality–sounding more and more like art.
Osteria Fancescana and perhaps Massimo Bottura are most famous for one particular dessert—Oops, I Dropped the Lemon Tart! The story goes that he and his pastry chef were about to serve dessert to a Japanese chef who was renowned for his fantastic technique. They had been very nervous throughout the meal but so far everything had gone well. When they went to plate the dessert the pastry chef dropped one of the two lemon tarts, made especially for the illustrious diner, half on the plate and half on the counter. The pastry chef “was ready to kill himself”. Bottura says: “Don’t kill yourself, look at that! It’s so beautiful, it captured the moment– That is the poetry in everyday life. If you keep that space open for poetry….from all the obligations…you can imagine a beautiful, broken lemon tart. So we rebuild that imprecision, that imperfection in a perfect way.” The plating of that dessert became an international icon.
Working with emerging artists, especially the newer ones, the idea that expectations need a lot of room around them for the unexpected is often the most difficult to master. They rush from one point to the next without taking time to notice what may be beautiful in a new way and what may express a moment of authenticity. (And getting some distance in order to see.)
I think sometimes the sting of falling short of an expectation when you want to do something so badly causes a rush to judgment that can destroy the seeds innovation and truth. And it discourages the artist who can then turn away from the endeavor.
Let the idea come fast, but let the process be slow. Leave room for the poetry and the uniqueness of the moment to reveal itself.
He goes on to say that “art is the highest way to communicate the point of human thought. Art makes the invisible the visible”. That takes awareness and awareness takes times. So the next time you shutter at some unplanned splash of paint or some awful bit of drawing resist rushing to “fix” it. Let “oops” be a cue to the next good thing.
To hear an interview with this insightful chef- http://www.charlierose.com/watch/60460952
“Besides the noble art of getting things done, there is the noble art of leaving things undone.” (Writer, Lin Yutang)