Buona sera da Modena! I’ve just finished five days of filming for Season 3 of Dream of Italy on PBS and mio Dio, I don’t even have the words to describe what I saw and felt. Chances are you know Chef Massimo Bottura? He has three Michelin stars, the restaurant Osteria Francescana that he owns with his American-born wife Lara Gilmore has been named again and again as the best restaurant in the world. Bottura was featured in the first season of Chef’s Table on Netflix in 2015. I would venture to say he is absolutely the most famous chef in Italy and among a handful of contenders for most famous in the world. But “famous” is probably the least of the adjectives to describe him.
Where do I begin? First of all, if you have ever dreamed of having a meal at Osteria Francescana, please go, please save up your money and make it happen. It was truly the best meal of my life and I am certain nothing will ever come close to matching it and that has little to do with the reason I was there – a TV show. It was art, emotion, beauty, soul, flavor, love, the land and the answers to some of the mysteries of the universe all wrapped up in every course. The Food Valley’s prized Parmigiano Reggiano and balsamic vinegar play surprising roles. Osteria Francescana takes reservations six months ahead on the 1st of every month. It is about 500 euros per person with wine (300 without) but my God, you will talk about it, dream about it for years.
Even if that is NOT in your budget, go to Modena, what a charming, delicious, elegant city, where you will see few tourists. You can eat in one of the other Francescana restaurants which are more affordably priced like Franchescetta 58 (tortellini in 36-month aged Parmigiano Reggiano is a MUST) or drive out to the Ferrari factory to dine at Il Cavallino. Do not, repeat do not leave without having a modern, divine reinvention of the local dessert Zuppa Inglese. Mamma Mia.
Massimo and Lara are two people who are changing the world, every single day. I can’t wait for you to meet them through the TV show. They don’t see obstacles, they see opportunities including starting an incredible program called Tortellante, for autistic young adults to train in making tortellini – inspired by their son Charlie, who made tortellini with me. Massimo always looks to the future, keeps dreaming and creating. He looks to the design of his beloved cars and motorcycles and vast modern art collection (much of which is housed at their Casa Maria Luigia, where you can spend the night) as just a few of his numerous inspirations.
I knew our time together was going to be something really special when on the first day I asked Massimo, “So tell me about your mother?” He was like wow, you’re really getting right in there…he thought and answered, “There’s one word: Everything.” “And that word ‘everything'” I would also say about my wife Lara,” he shared.
Later that day, he drove me to the Ferrari factory in his custom gray Ferrari convertible in the most gorgeous winter light. We were supposed to be talking about the region’s “fast cars” but spent much of the time sharing tales about our late mothers who I kind of like to think were there in those rays of sunshine.
Yes, our days were about food…cars…beauty… but really truly about so much more…which isn’t that what ITALY is all about? LIFE
Another day, I started to tear up looking at one of their pieces of contemporary art featuring an artist purposely breaking a million dollar vase when Lara explained, “sometimes all you have to bring with you into the future are the broken pieces.” I still have a lump in my throat from thinking about the truth of that.
And in case you think we got too serious, don’t worry, my dog Finney donned a mask for Carnevale and wore a GoPro camera around Modena! Haha! I will keep you posted but Dream of Italy Season 3 should premiere later this fall. You aren’t going to want to miss THIS episode! It will inspire you to book a trip to Modena and Emilia-Romagna!