FACT Chats: Massimo Bottura on Michelin stars, Middle Eastern expansion and movies

FACT’s editor-in-chief hits the beach with the acclaimed restaurateur and chef.

Massimo Bottura is a man who should require little introduction. The 60-year-old Italian is regarded as one of the world’s best restaurateurs thanks to Osteria Francescana, his three-Michelin-star restaurant in Modena, Italy. Massimo has since become a culinary celebrity, having appeared in Chef’s Table and Mochi and Waffles for Netflix while expanding his restaurant empire to include collaborations with Ferrari (Ferrari Ristorante Cavallino in Modena) and Gucci (Gucci Osteria in Beverley Hills, Florence, Seoul and Tokyo). 

He is also a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the founder of Food For Soul, a nonprofit that aims to combat food waste and inspire a sense of community. 

On his most recent visit to Dubai, Massimo talked to FACT about Michelin stars, Middle Eastern expansion and movies.

What’s new in the world of Massimo?

There are lots of things that are going on. As I always say, there will always be a future in my future. So if I stop planning or dreaming, that would be the moment in which I close my mind and my dreams. 

I just returned from Mexico, where we opened a new refectory under my non-profit organisation, Food for Soul. I was also in New York and plan on opening there. It’s a very interesting but challenging location.

Can you tell us about the new Torno Subito in Miami?

The new opening in Miami is something special because I think Dubai and Miami match perfectly. It’s going to be on the rooftop of the Woolworth building, and it will be a food destination. Torno Subito in Dubai revolves around the idea of me going to the beach with my mother and my sister, but for Miami, we are bringing a Fellini-inspired circus to the top floor of the building. 

What’s new with Torno Subito here in Dubai?

A lot has changed since I last saw you. There’s a new chef, new dishes, and a Michelin star. Change is always a good thing and the kitchen is evolving with new energy. We believe in the future, we believe in the younger generation, and we always did. After four years in Dubai, chef Bernardo needed to evolve, so he’s moving to Miami to open Torno Subito there. 

Bernardo did a fantastic job and in the past six months, he finally received his recognition through awards such as the Michelin star. He was able to leave with a very big smile on his face, but we knew from December 2021 that he was going to open Torno Miami. That gave us plenty of time to search for a suitable replacement in Alessio Pirozzi.

Were you surprised that the Michelin Guide came to Dubai?

No. They have a guide that has been there for over 100 years. So they waited until the city was mature enough to come and asses. Once they realised that there were enough restaurants of a certain level, they decided to start. I wasn’t surprised at all. 

Imagine Michelin coming here to Dubai to evaluate the kind of pizza we make and the flour, tomatoes and mozzarella we pick. Then we’re awarded a star. It’s a big deal, especially for a restaurant that is doing more than 200 covers a day. 

You first saw Michelin success in 2002, and now 20 years later, you’re winning in Dubai. Is it a different feeling?

It’s even bigger now. In 2002, I was waiting for the stars. At that time in my career, the stars were incredibly important because they gave me the perception that I had done a very good job in training and shaping the mind of my chefs. Right now, we have eight Michelin stars across the world.

Did you expect to see Michelin recognition in Dubai?

It was out of the blue. I was honestly waiting for a Michelin star in Tokyo, but I wasn’t expecting one in Dubai. And that’s a big deal because they recognised a place that does so many covers with a very informal approach. Torno Subito may look simple, but the process is extremely complicated regarding the ingredients we use and our processes.

You also won a FACT Dining Award for the third consecutive year. How did that feel?

This is something that I keep saying, and we speak about it every time. Michelin coming in has created a significant impact. Before that, Dubai was being recognised on a regional level by people like FACT, which paved the way for global recognition. 

These awards are essential because they motivate us and remind us that our job is with the customers. This relationship keeps us on track and helps us keep evolving and improving. I keep saying to the team that the secret to success is the obsession with what you do. Right now, we are stronger than ever. 

What are the challenges of operating a restaurant in Dubai?

In Tokyo or Los Angeles, the focus is very much on local farmers, fishermen and cheese makers. Where we source the ingredients is very important to us. For Torno, we import the flour to make our pizza from Italy. It’s the same one that I use in Osteria Francescana.

One of the challenges in Dubai, especially when you operate within a hotel, is that a lot of people are breathing down your neck in terms of revenue and food costs. We’re fortunate here that we are given the freedom and support to maintain our product. 

What about Middle Eastern expansion? Any plans for Saudi Arabia?

No. We have already been approached by several investors in Abu Dhabi and Saudi. They would love to have us, but we are not ready yet. Personally, I don’t want to do it until I have the feeling to do it. 

However, a Ferrari restaurant – similar to my Ferrari Ristorante Cavallino in Modena – close to Ferrari World Abu Dhabi would be perfect. But we would have to have a local chef from Modena with the perfect approach. It doesn’t make sense until we have the right person who really wants to do it.

What would you say are the must-order dishes at Torno Subito?

Enzo Ferrari always said, “the best car that you make is the one that is going to be made in the future.” So instead of creating a new crazy pizza, I’m going to give you the best Margherita pizza you’ve ever had. 

In Dubai, we focus on a few ingredients executed with a profound Italian touch. For example, the amuse-bouche offers a poetic approach to the season with risotto, saffron, pumpkin and gold leaf. The pumpkin and saffron are a classic autumnal match, and a connection is formed when combined with the Parmesan. Plus, the gold leaf is reminiscent of Gualtiero Marchesi’s risotto from the 1980s. What I’m trying to say is that even when it looks straightforward, it’s actually complex.

Guest may not understand that the mozzarella is coming here three times a week from Italy, so you have this poetic approach in a place like Dubai where there are no real seasons.

You’ve previously worked with Michelle Obama for Mochi and Waffles and Aziz Ansari for Master of None. Are there any other collaborations that you are working on right now?

There are a lot of things going on. Last summer, we hosted a dinner in Modena because they were shooting a Hollywood movie about Ferrari. We had all these incredible actors, singers and rock stars, such as Adam Driver, Penelope Cruz, Harry Styles, Justin Timberlake and Matthew McConaughey.

I was impressed by Matthew McConaughey because he was very passionate about bourbon. So when he came and visited the area, he thought about making bourbon in the balsamic vinegar barrels. It was his idea, a very interesting one. I’m not sure what’s going on with it right now, but I don’t want to miss this opportunity to make bourbon the same way we do balsamic vinegar.

There’s also talk of a movie or series on Netflix. I don’t want to play myself, but I would love Stanley Tucci to play me.

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David Tapley - Editor-in-Chief
As editor-in-chief of the region’s most fiercely local lifestyle publication, David is a self-proclaimed hip-hop aficionado, championing all things food, travel, street art, and streetwear across the United Arab Emirates and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

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