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  • Writer's pictureMatthew Hart

My Day with The Pavoratti of Pasta

Quarantined. Sheltered in place. Lockdown. Whatever you want to call it, I’d like it to be with Massimo Bottura. Over the last month, the thought has crossed my mind daily. I was first introduced to Massimo through Chef’s Table and then again through his special on 60 Minutes. I’ve watched both at least ten times, likely more. Last September, I had an unforgettable experience at his Emilian countryside estate just outside of Modena, Italy - Casa Maria Luigia.

Named after his mom and more than just a ‘bed and breakfast,’ Casa Maria Luigia is the creation of Massimo and his wife Lara Gilmore. Casa Maria Luigia is art. The countryside escape deftly weaves nature, design, art, music, food, wine and human connections together with a humble passion from the world's greatest Chef and his extremely talented wife. An extraordinary experience that taps into all of your senses while at the same time, making you feel very much at home.

Opened in the Spring of 2019, Casa Maria Luigia extends art and hospitality beyond the doors of Osteria Francescana, Massimo’s three starred Michelin restaurant that has twice been named the world’s best restaurant in 2016 and 2018. A reservation at Osteria Francescana is challenging if not near impossible to secure, so I decided to focus my energy on Casa Maria Luigia where guests get to experience Osteria Francescana at Casa Maria Luigia. On a random summer day, just a few months before our trip to Northern Italy, the stars aligned and the food gods chipped in to help me secure a reservation.

By far the most anticipated stop on our vacation. Well, for me at least it was. Our drive began as we left Cinque Terre for Modena on a Tuesday morning. In the smallest, slowest Italian sedan Avis had to offer, I was racing to Modena. Arriving (intentionally) well before the 3pm check-in, I wanted to see how persuasive I could be with an early check-in. Better than an early check-in, we received lunch recommendations for an authentic Modenese lunch in the town square. And, while I cannot remember the name of the place, the pumpkin raviolis and tortellini en brodo are the first two dishes that immediately come to mind when talking about that one time we ate our way through Italy.

After an incredible lunch and walk through Modena’s town square, we found ourselves poolside at Casa Maria Luigia. But the property, garden, and refrigerators stocked with fresh snacks and whatever you wanted to drink would not allow me to just sit by the pool and relax. With plenty of time to be curious before dinner, I explored the estate front to back, watched Massimo and Lara get interviewed for something, over indulged with a lemon ricotta snack and fell in love with Cleto Chiarli Lambrusco.

With dinner just a few short hours away, the estate begins to buzz with guests from all over the world admiring the contemporary art collection, enjoying a cocktail in the vinyl record room, and sipping wine on the patio. As the sun goes down, the doors to Osteria Francescana open with everyone invited into a beautifully modern kitchen set as the stage before communal dining tables with the walls displaying an art from Damien Hirst. Thanks to several evenings with the team at Lazy Bear in San Francisco, this wasn’t my first dinner date with a bunch of strangers. I was curious to meet our new friends for the night.

A retired couple from Scotland. A biotech executive couple from Monaco. And a young married couple from New York who influenced our decision to plan a honeymoon to Africa. We were welcomed by Lara, Massimo, and what felt like bottomless pourings of 2007 Giulio Ferrari Riserva del Fondatore. It was the firestarter for conversation at the table and photo opportunities with Massimo in the kitchen.

What was once a Chef’s Table dream became reality with the first of several famous courses being served, A Tribute to Normandy. Shortly thereafter, Lara and Massimo tell a story from when they met in New York before serving Autumn in New York as a Seafood Salad, nostalgically paired with 2018 Malvasia Sorriso di Cielo La Tosa and a story from a date early in their relationship.

The next wave included Pasta al Pesto in Abstract, the Five Ages of Parmigiano Reggiano in Different Textures & Temperatures and The Crunchy Part of the Lasagna. The man sitting across from me, Jean-Pierre, and I bonded over the 2017 Derthona Timorasso Borgogno paired with the sequence. The pairing quickly became ‘bottomless’ and the conversation seemingly endless.

We experienced Massimo’s love for art through his Beautiful, Psychedelic, Spin Painted Veal, Not Flame Grilled. We were introduced to his Emilian roots through the Modenese Sorbert - fresh tortellini soaked in a parmigiano cream perfectly paired with a taste of Sicily with a 2018 SP 68 Rosso Occhipiati to cut through the richness of both courses. Our eating was slowing down while the energy in the room was building. A consequence of the wine and anticipation of the final courses, Caesar Salad in Bloom and the most famous course of them all, Oops! I Dropped the Lemon Tart.

There is a lot to learn from the story behind Oops! I Dropped the Lemon. A broken desert in the kitchen of a three starred Michelin restaurant that became one of Osteria Francescana’s defining courses and star of the Chef’s Table episode paired with a 2018 Dindarello Macalan was a perfect way to wrap up a once-in-a lifetime evening.

Like my time at Alinea in Chicago and Gaggan in Bangkok, the dining experiences where the food almost becomes secondary are the ones you don’t forget and the ones you continue to seek out. There is a reason Osteria Francescana has been twice awarded the world’s best restaurant and Massimo Bottura arguably the world’s greatest chef. The passion, leadership, creativity, hospitality, food and the time spent at Casa Maria Luigia are just a few of the reasons why I think about being on lockdown with Massimo Bottura.

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