Massimo Bottura is a chef.
He is also interested in modern art.
He wanted his restaurant to incorporate that kind of innovation into the food.
But he opened it in Modena, a small town in Italy, and the locals weren’t interested.
All they wanted was traditional food made the same way it had always been made.
Which for Massimo Bottura was like eating on autopilot.
He wanted to wake people up.
But the local people didn’t want that.
So his restaurant, Osteria Francescana, was empty most nights.
And Massimo Bottura was about to close it down.
Until one night one of Italy’s top food critics stopped in Modena just to avoid a traffic jam.
He ate at Osteria Francescana and was amazed.
He wrote about it in Italy’s most influential food magazine.
The article was headed POST MODERN TAGLIATELLA.
He wrote “What a shame the people of a small town like Modena can’t appreciate this kind of innovative food”.
Suddenly gourmets from all over Italy began coming to Modena just for this restaurant.
The food was strange and beautiful, with the wit of modern art.
Dishes like: “A Potato Waiting To Become A Truffle”
And: “The Five Ages of Parmagiana Reggio”
And: “Just The Crunchy Part Of The Lasagne”
Witty food that would excite the eyes and tickle the mind as well as the mouth.
But the best part of the story for me is what happened one night in the kitchen.
The Japanese sous chef had prepared two perfect lemon tarts, and was about to serve them.
When he dropped one.
Massimo Bottura said the sous chef froze and turned white.
The sous chef said the world stood still and he wanted to commit hara-kiri right there.
Massimo Bottura looked at the broken lemon tart on the counter.
He formed a square with the thumb and finger of both hands.
He framed the broken lemon tart.
He said to the sous chef “Look how beautiful it is”.
And he called for fresh plates and broke the other tart to match.
And he arranged the pieces, spraying lemon zabaglione from the centre.
Until it looked like just Roy Lichtenstein’s pop-art painting: WHAM.
Then he served it and it was a massive success.
He called it “Oops, I Dropped The Lemon Tart”.
It is now one of the most famous dishes on the restaurant’s menu.
It is even served on its own plate, specially made to look broken.
Witty, surprising and, most importantly, unique.
Osteria Francescana now has three Michelin stars.
It is generally agreed to be the best restaurant in Italy.
In fact, for the last five years it has been rated as one of the top five restaurants in the entire world.
The Japanese sous chef says he learned something that day.
“A mistake may not be the end of something, with an open mind it may be the beginning of something”.
The people of Modena have learned something too.
They are now proud of Massimo Bottura and his restaurant, and are proud to eat there.
The only problem is, with gourmets coming from all over the world, it’s very hard for them to get a table.