Chef Massimo Bottura on His Obsession with Quality and Avoiding Airplane Food

Oct 18, 2017

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While in Hong Kong this month to check out the swanky new Centurion Lounge, Amex invited me to attend a By Invitation Only event at The Peninsula Hong Kong, which featured world-renowned chef Massimo Bottura. These events are exclusively for Platinum and Centurion Card Molders, but they aren’t free (this one was $1,500 per ticket); they’re pretty spectacular in that they give guests access to the world’s best athletes, chefs, celebrities — experiences you simply can’t buy.

True, dinner at Chef Bottura’s Osteria Francescana is only about $200 by comparison, but add in wine (and they had great wine flowing all night long) and you’re easily nearing $500 per person — and you still have to get to Modena, Italy! For Amex Card Members in Hong Kong (and even some from other countries who flew in) it was a chance to also get one-on-one time with the chef.

In the past I’ve attended other BIO events — like the premiere of the Bond movie Spectre in Mexico City and the Kentucky Derby — and they’re always spectacular. I’m pretty sure Amex doesn’t turn a profit on these events, but they do them to build a brand all about experiences — which is what we all want. This event also tied into their new Global Dining Collection, which launched along with new Platinum Card benefits in March 2017. The Global Dining Collection gives Platinum and Centurion Card Members access to exclusive, one-of-a-kind culinary events, experiences and off-the-menu perks with incredible chefs like Bottura, Thomas Keller, Daniel Humm, Stephanie Izard and José Andrés.

Through the Global Dining Collection, Card Members also get access to reservations at thousands of top restaurants across the globe through the Platinum Concierge program. I took advantage of it this summer twice to dine at Eleven Madison Park’s summer pop-up in collaboration with American Express in East Hampton, NY; it was incredible and reservations were only available to Amex Card Members.

In Hong Kong, back on October 7, I got a chance to speak with the chef behind the restaurant that earned him the top slot on the World’s Best list in 2016 , Osteria Francescana, located in Modena, Italy. He has a zest for life (and quality) that became apparent to me the second I heard him speak. (In fact, his afternoon session on his cooking style reminded me more of a TED Talk than a cooking demo: It was about going against the mold — taking what is old and giving it a new contemporary twist.) 

I was able to get some time with the man behind the three-Michelin-starred restaurant and we chatted about many things including how to combat jet lag and eating on planes. Read on for my interview with Chef Bottura:

TPG and Chefs Massimo Batura

Brian Kelly: What are your tips for combatting jet lag?

Massimo Bottura:  Eat well. Eat the right things. Nap whenever you can because it is extremely important — extremely important — especially for creativity. I’m sure this afternoon I’m going to take a nap! [Energy] is one of the most important things [so my advice is] sleep when you feel it.

BK: Do you drink when you fly?

MB: Never ever — I don’t drink alcohol, even on the plane, even in first class. [I don’t drink much ] except for last night when we went crazy and opened an unbelievable bottle; I couldn’t say no to some crazy wine. If there’s something that can make a difference and can help you [learn], do it. It’s not drinking to drink. It’s drinking to learn.


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BK: Do you eat on airplanes?

MB: Sometimes, yes. Most of the time, no. It’s very difficult because how can you prepare good food? Maybe you can make the right choice with a cheese selection or if you want chocolate … or, if in the middle of the night you wake up and you want ice cream, I really appreciate that. But [as far as] cooking stuff … no.

BK: Would you ever consider eating in a lounge?

MB:  A lounge is different, you can create good food. Very good food. In general, though, that is not where I want to go. At least there are airlines that have great service like Singapore Airlines. They’re so nice; they don’t want to show you anything other than their joy and culture of serving you well.

BK: Would you consider being an airline chef or doing food for a lounge?

MB: When they asked me to do it, I said no, because the money didn’t matter to me. It’s because the quality — I’m obsessed with quality. The quality of the idea, the quality of the ingredients, the quality of the materials, the quality of everything!  

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BK: What destination have you not been to that you’re most excited about?

MB: I’ve been everywhere! I’m like Johnny Cash!

BK: What about Africa?

MB: Places there are very inspiring — like South Africa and Namibia; the north — they’ve been touched by the Mediterranean. They’re very reaching cultures; it’s very inspiring how they mix up spices and things like that.

BK: Do you do anything to unwind? Or are you always thinking about food?

MB: No, food is my passion but I live in my passion. To me, my other passions are sports: soccer, Formula One. I’m from Modena!   

BK: So you must drive an Italian car…

MB: Maserati! And Ducati. It’s the double-cylinder; it’s just the sound of it. For me, it’s about passion. When you have the sound of an eight-cylinder, like the Maserati, it goes directly into your brain.

All images courtesy of American Express

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