Massimo Bottura's Crusade To End Food Waste

We talk to the world's best chef about his beef with pop-ups, food waste and the secret to sorbetto

Massimo Bottura is a busy man. The chef and owner of the acclaimed Osteria Francescana, which currently holds the top slot on the 50 Best Restaurants list, recently transplanted himself to Rio to help launch a refettorio, a dining hall for those in need. The space utilizes food that is too often wasted, a concept he hopes to bring to the Bronx. Last week, he left his team in Italy and flew to New York for a brief 48 hours to cook and speak at Identità Golose, a conference focused entirely on food waste.

Despite any jet lag, Bottura, who was featured in the first season of Chef's Table, exuded a frenetic energy, popping back and forth between the kitchen and the dining room, hugging industry friends, joking alternately in Italian and English, and discussing food waste. We managed to squeeze in a quick chat with the chef to hear about his efforts to help reduce food waste.

This is more than a pop-up.

"Pop-up doesn't mean anything. This is a cultural project. Of course, there's also a charity aspect, but it's a cultural project to explain to the young generation that waste is just absurd—33 percent of the world production is wasted."

It all comes back to cheese.

"In the earthquake in 2012, 360,000 wheels of Parmigiano-Reggiano were damaged, so I created a recipe that used a lot, a lot, a lot of cheese. It spread everywhere; thousands of people were cooking risotto cacio e pepe. No one lost their job; no one had to close their companies. We realized we could do much more than cook at a restaurant."  

The ugly truth about food waste.

"Around the world, you have to explain that an amazing tomato can be a little bit ugly; it doesn't have to be beautiful. That the zucchini of different sizes, you don't have to throw away the smaller ones. It's all about vision, perception.

In Brazil, I was showing them that with an overripe banana, we can make sorbetto without sugar. It's much healthier, and it's much better. You have to teach. That's why I say it's not a charity project but a cultural project."

Making a difference.

"In 2015, 860 million people were starving. The projection for 2050 is 400 million—we cut that in half. I say we because maybe we are changing people's minds culturally. Maybe we are part of the same revolution."