Massimo Bottura: “I have a test that I do with my chefs—it’s called “Who Are You?” You have to express yourself in an edible way—or even in a different way. You have to express yourself and tell me who you are. I do this test all the time—if I come back on a Monday, I send a message, “Wednesday, I’m going to taste something, so everyone has to be ready for that.” So you learn how to think.
There’s a young guy—19-years-old, called Ed, from northern England. He grew up and trained as a cook in a French restaurant specializing in soufflé. His passion has always been Italian cuisine—and his big, high goal has always been Massimo Bottura. So he went to London, flew from London to Bologna, and from Bologna came to Osteria.
One day, I met him outside the restaurant, in the small street by the kitchen, but I didn’t pay attention because there are so many people that are there all the time. I said, after a couple of hours, because it was raining, “What are doing there?” And he said, “I was waiting to meet you.” I said, “Why didn’t you say that before? I would have said something.”
“I didn’t want to disturb you,” he said.
I said, “OK, come here, who are you? Do you have a work permit? What’s your passion?” I gave him a jacket and an apron and I put him in the bakery and left him there for six months. He spent six months in the bakery and one day he said, “Chef, I want to do something. I want to do ‘Who Are You?’ and express myself.”
He served a tiramisu soufflé—melting in the center with tiramisu, but very classic in style, not like those fake soufflés you see all over the world—with this perfect balance in which you don’t even taste the egg, with hot coffee sauce, with the crunchy chocolate top, with an ice cream of mascarpone chauffoir. You break the soufflé, you put the mascarpone inside, you pour the coffee, and you go deep into that.
That was my best tiramisu I’ve ever tasted in my life. The best, absolutely–and created by a 19-year-old kid who lived his whole life in the north of England with a village of, like, 1,000 people. He came to Modena and he did that.
You know what that means? You have to listen to people, you have to learn how to listen to people. You have to give to these guys the possibility to express themselves—because they’re going to surprise you. Always keep a door open for the unexpected—that’s what really makes the difference.”