When MasterChef Australia 2021 said “superstar week” they were not mucking around. First, Nigella Lawson challenged the culinary hopefuls to make her decadent rhubarb meringue cake with no recipe, then Middle Eastern maestro Yotam Ottolenghi asked the contestants to present a three-course meal heroing his flavour bombs.
Now, internationally acclaimed Italian chef Massimo Bottura is asking the MasterChef competitors to plate up a mouth-watering bowl of…mac n’ cheese.
If this sounds like an odd pressure test to come from the owner of a three-Michelin star restaurant, it’s worth remembering that Bottura believes all food should be created as an act of love and honestly, what says “love” more than a hearty bowl of macaroni slathered in creamy, delicious, melt-in-your-mouth cheese?
Bottura hails from Modena in Italy, which is where his restaurant Osteria Francescana is located. In addition to its three Michelin stars, the eatery also holds the distinction of having been rated as the world’s best restaurant in 2016 and 2018 — the first Italian restaurant to achieve the top spot. It was deemed second best in 2015 and third-best in 2013 and 2014.
Bottura opened Osteria Francescana on 19 March 1995 intending to create a harmonious intersection of culinary tradition and innovation and contemporary art and design. The restaurant was the subject of a season one episode of Netflix’s Chef’s Table, which explores his beginnings, passion, family, and business venture’s success. If you’re a fan of Aziz Ansari’s Master of None, you might also recognise Bottura — and his restaurant — from the second episode of the show’s second season.
The impressive chef has authored five books so far and is passionate about diversity, inclusion and sustainability in food. Speaking to Resy in 2020 (after Osteria Francescana has blissfully re-opened on June 2 after its COVID-induced closure) Bottura said, “The role of the chef has already changed… The ethics and aesthetics are one and only one thing. So there’s the humanistic revolution that is already there.
“But the role of the chef now is to step out of the kitchen and to let people know what they think, and what their ideas are. The chefs in 2020 are much more than the sum of their recipes.”
To that end, Bottura and his wife, Lara Gilmore, launched Food for Soul in 2015 — a nonprofit organisation to promote social awareness about food wastage and hunger and build healthier and more equitable food systems, just another reason to love this passionate chef and philanthropist.
In 2020, Bottura offered home chefs the ultimate cooking experience with his Instagram series Kitchen Quarantine. Here’s hoping the current MasterChef proteges were watching as in one of the episodes, Bottura demonstrated the art of crafting an “everything Mac and Cheese” dinner. The virtual series earned the already celebrated chef a 2020 Webby Special Achievement Award for his efforts.
While Bottura, who also hosted a series of online cooking classes through Masterclass in 2019, enjoyed the experience of conducting the weekly Instagram segments, he hopes that there won’t be much need for them going forward.
“In my hope, we won’t need them in the future,” he told Resy. “Because I’m Italian and I’m very open-minded and open-spirited, one of the things I love the most is a personal approach with people.
“I said in an interview that the first thing I would do when we were able to reopen would be to hug people. When you look in the eyes of people and you have a personal approach, you can transfer much deeper emotion than through a computer screen.”
If all of this information has made you desperately wish you could hop on a plane to one of Bottura’s world-class restaurants around the world (say, for example to his Gucci Osteria in Beverly Hills) we are sorry to say that that won’t be possible for a while yet.
However, thanks to Bottura and MasterChef Australia, after tonight you should be able to whip up an indulgent mac and cheese to drown your landlocked sorrows in but just in case, you can find the recipe here.