Best of the best
I love a list, and so do the restaurant goers of the world, which explains the thinking behind San Pellegrino’s sponsorship of the World’s 50 Best, which has drifted into the World’s 100 Best restaurants.
If you’re on that list, you’re all but guaranteed a year of great custom—a mix of the curious (“what’s all the fuss about?”), the critical (“I could cook this at home, why pay $90 for a pasta dish?”) and the next generation of chefs (“I can be this one day!”).
This week, Massimo Bottura (above), he of Modena’s Osteria Francescana, took out the top gong, edging out last year’s leader, El Celler de Can Roca from North-eastern Spain (Girona).
Bottura, 53, who has run the Osteria for 20 years, wears his heart and his creativity on his sleeve, as a quick run through a long list of YouTube clips of the chef in action, describing the evolution of his dishes, being a philosopher will show clearly. After watching and listening to his thinking, I couldn’t help but want to visit the Osteria—which, wonderfully, means tavern—no matter what the cost. I’ve been to four of the top 100, and what strikes you in each of them—with one exception—is that the new wave of restaurant eating is based on three fundamentals: impeccable service and comfort, the uncompromising quality of ingredients, all meshed into a constant search as to how to turn a simple dish into a theatrical display.
The restaurants I have visited on that list are Mugaritz (San Sebastian, Spain) #7, Asador Etxebarri (Axpe, Spain) #10, Dinner By Heston Blumenthal (London, England) #45, and Quay (Sydney) #98. Asador Etxebarri was the exception to the theatrical approach of the others: the restaurant is plain in its décor, gentle in its service, and the food is all cooked on the grill. There is no theatre here, other than the superior simplicity of the presentation. It remains my restaurant highlight of many years of having the good fortune at visiting many great places.
It couldn’t be more simple: grilled T-Bone at Asador Etxebarri
Massimo Batturo's philosophy
TMix+ is all about looking at how to take the food we have loved over generations into the Thermomix; not just for the sake of it, but to discover new ways to do things better, or quicker. Of the two, we prefer better.
Massimo Bottura has a similar philosophy. In many interviews, he refers here to “being contemporary, (but) also (that) means recuperating things that are disappearing”. In a sense, he knows well that the future belongs in the past. In an extensive interview on the digital video site potluckvideo.com, he describes his creative process: “The most important ingredient for a chef—a contemporary chef—is his mind. A contemporary chef is always looking to the future, but you never forget the past.
“I call that tradition in evolution. To look at the past, not in a nostalgic way, but in a critical way. To get the best from the past and bring it into the future.
“There are points that are so important in Italy, for everyone, so nostalgic: the soccer team, the Pope, and your grandmother’s recipe.
“This is a very important lesson: never screw up with the grandmother’s recipe. Otherwise the people will crucify you in the main piazza.
“Thousands of years of culture back there, and we need to preserve that, but also to renew that: a new tradition. Tradition in evolution. Project ourselves into the future.”
You can see the Osteria menu here, noting the $AUD 90 pasta dish of tagliatelle with hand-chopped ragù, and also the dish that started in 1998, and may never leave: The five ages of Parmigiano Reggiano in different textures and temperatures. (also $AUD 90). Bottura tells how that signature dish evolved here.
We know the Thermomix is a wiz for making very smooth smoothies, which makes it a natural for the item that popped onto our screens this week, via ozy.com—how to make a bhang lassi, or a marijuana smoothie. Ozy.com, being a good citizen of the United States notes that the drink is not available to all. In a video accompanying the yarn, the running titles note the recipe is fine to try “as long as you have a prescription, or live in Colorado, or whatever…” Colorado being the state of the US that has legalised the sale of cannabis.
The video, which shows in fine detail what’s needed to get high on a drink, is delivered by Julianna Carella, the founder of the cannabis snacks business Auntie Dolores. Dolores started business in 2008, “creating infused gourmet foods in San Francisco, the birthplace of the medical cannabis movement. We seek to improve the quality of life for health conscious cannabis consumers by providing broad access to safe alternatives and to educate the public about the therapeutic value of cannabis.”
Like most smoothies, it’s not just a matter of tossing in the cannabis leaves with milk and honey, it includes frozen bananas, coconut milk, kefir, yoghurt or ice cream, walnut butter, coconut sugar or honey, glazed pecans, raw cocao and cinnamon. I reckon it would be fine even without the cannabis.
Bhang Lassi is actually an Indian creation developed to assist the worship of the god Shiva, and Ms Carella’s model is her take on the original, updated to take into account Auntie Dolores’ philosophy: “health freedom is the right to choose how we heal our bodies and our minds”.
Ozy.com also, generously, provides a link to a video created by Charlie White a film maker, which takes us to the heart of Lord Shiva’s territory, and the real thing, from a legal bhang seller. I particularly liked this line from a smirking “almost 67” year old, who claimed he’d been taking bhang for 50 years. It makes, he said, “sex more good.”
Key ingredient in the bhang lassi!!
In our Autumn/Winter edition we highlight the beauty of beetroot, and some of its uses. I was chuffed to see on Instagram the pic below, submitted this week by one of TMix+’s favourite writers Fuchsia Dunlop. The picture shows a classic combo—of goat’s cheese and the many of the different varieties and colours of beetroot—with the right mix of lemon juice, a gentle sprinkle of a mild vinegar, the best virgin olive oil, and some cut herbs (tarragon or basil or parsley).
Cooking the beetroot doesn’t really need the Thermomix to make it magic (although you can steam beetroot in the Varoma, or poach it in the basket, I prefer to cook it gently on the stove, or, if stressed for time, wrapped in plastic in the microwave—for about 10 minutes). The simplicity of Dunlop’s Instagram pic brings together the philosophy of all the great restaurants mentioned above: great ingredients, great thinking, and great theatre.
Fuchsia Dunlop’s books on essential Chinese cooking and how the food and culture of China are so meshed should be on every bookshelf, not just for the recipes but the insights into this ancient and creative land. Her latest book, Land Of Fish and Rice, will be out later this year.
You can check out her books here: http://www.fuchsiadunlop.com/books/
PS: The other great partner for goat’s cheese is raspberries, but we’ll have to wait for summer for that joyful marriage.