Chef Massimo Bottura’s Message Not Wasted on Drexel Community at Lecture

World-renowned Italian chef Massimo Bottura at an event hosted by Drexel’s Center for Food and Hospitality Management and the Philly Chef Conference.
World-renowned Italian chef Massimo Bottura at an event hosted by Drexel’s Center for Food and Hospitality Management and the Philly Chef Conference. Photo by Jordan Stein.

Both the Drexel University and the local foodie communities came together on April 10 to eat, drink, laugh and reflect with world-renowned Italian chef Massimo Bottura at an event hosted by Drexel’s Center for Food and Hospitality Management and the Philly Chef Conference. Bottura spoke with Esquire magazine food and drinks editor Jeff Gordinier about everything from his charitable endeavors to the culture of cooking, and then signed copies of his 2017 book “Bread Is Gold” for patrons.

“We’ve been trying to get Massimo out to campus for the past couple years,” said Michael Traud, director of the Center for Hospitality and Sport Management. Bottura’s wife, Lara Gilmore, also spoke at Drexel just last month as part of the 2018 Philly Chef Conference, hosted by the Center. “It was amazing to have him on campus engaging with students and with the restaurant community at large. That’s what Drexel is all about, providing resources not only to students but to our professional community.”

Traud welcomed everyone to the packed special event held in the Bossone Research Enterprise Center’s Mitchell Auditorium, and thanked the various partners involved. This included local vendors Federal Donuts and La Colombe, who got a round of loud applause from the audience when mentioned. Bottura and Gordinier then took their places at a table in front of two bottles of Perrier and two donuts each, but were more preoccupied with each other than with their food and drink.

“This man is walking energy, I tell you,” said Gordinier of Boturra, who had just arrived in Philadelphia the night before. Bottura was then compelled to recite his simple keys to success.

“Wake up in the morning, go to bed at night and in between do the thing you have chosen to do,” he said matter-of-factly.

What Bottura does, he does well. His Modena, Italy-based restaurant, Osteria Francescana, has three-Michelin-star status and has been listed in the top 5 of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants by Restaurant magazine since 2010. Bottura and his restaurant have also been featured in Netflix series “Chef’s Table” and “Master of None.”

Through his success, Bottura also found passion and time in the day for charity. He spoke at length about his nonprofit organization, Food For Soul, which he founded alongside his wife Gilmore and which aims to empower communities to fight food waste through social inclusion. Bottura said that he grew up with a family — specifically a grandmother, or “nonna” in Italian — where nothing was wasted, so to find out that 1.2 billion tons of food were wasted across the world each year really astounded him.

“Once you grow up with this type of family, it’s hard to leave a plate of food that you served yourself and say, ‘I don’t want it anymore,’” he said.

To do what he could to start combatting this phenomenon, Bottura has opened a number of refettorios, or community kitchens, in which chefs like himself make meals to feed the hungry utilizing ingredients which would have otherwise gone to waste. There are currently four of these refettorios located in Milan, Rio de Janeiro, London and Paris, with more coming soon (Bottura mentioned requests from several cities in North America).

Though he was met with some hesitance about the project from those around him, and it took a few weeks for guests to understand his mission, Bottura’s refettorios now succeed in not only feeding, but also to serving.

“We needed to rebuild the dignity of the people,” Bottura said. “Do we need another soup kitchen? No. We need a beautiful place in which we can do what we know the best — hospitality.”

Proceeds from “Bread is Gold” will help Food for Soul open new refettorios, Bottura said. When Valerie Erwin, general manager of Drexel’s Center for Huger-Free Communities’ EAT Café, asked Bottura how entities like theirs could both strive to make hungry people more self-sufficient, he offered for her to reach out to Food for Soul and maybe they could “create something together here in Philadelphia.”

Brian McDermott, general manager of Gia Pronto Kitchen located in The Perelman Center for Advanced Medicine on University of Pennsylvania’s campus, said that ending message summed up Bottura’s talk nicely.

“To hear Massimo speak, he has such passion,” he said. “You can’t not be rapt by what he has to say.”

Bottura will round out his trip to Philadelphia by cooking at Vetri Cucina — which is owned by Drexel alum Marc Vetri ’90 — on April 11 as part of Vetri Cucina’s 20th Anniversary Dinner Series.