Technically, at the time of my solo visit to Osteria Francescana, a three-Michelin-starred restaurant, it was ranked number two on The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list; however, not long after it was deservedly bumped up to the golden spot: number one. Osteria Francescana, you see, is a magical place—and chef Massimo Bottura is its star.
In Italy for the World Expo 2015 in Milan, I knew the two-hour train ride to Osteria Francescana was a must and made sure to secure a lunch reservation for one. Upon arrival, I was seated in a quaint dining room with three other tables, each occupied by a couple.
Chef Bottura is a culinary hero with a dynamic presence and personality that matches his top-notch cuisine. He is known for reinterpreting traditional Italian dishes with artistry and sensibility, and the 12-plus courses of seasonal, experimental food I experienced were each more stunning than the last. All dishes arrive not just with clever ingredients but with clever names as well: Five Ages of Parmigiano Reggiano in Different Textures and Temperatures; The Crunchy Part of Lasagna; Foie Gras Ice Cream Bar with Traditional Balsamic Vinegar from Modena; and one of Massimo’s most famous dishes, Oops! I Dropped the Lemon Tart Vignola. The food was art, so creative and exquisite.
Autumn in New York
As I savored each bite, I glanced around the room and found many other content faces, each one nodding and smiling with approval. We all knew we were lucky to be there.
Bottura entered the dining room toward the end of lunch, warmly greeting each table individually—the pinnacle moment of the meal. I was the last table he approached, and after introducing myself he invited me for a tour of the kitchen.
The Dining Room
Before departing the restaurant, Bottura kindly gave me a rare gift: a large piece of his own 30-month-aged Parmigiano-Reggiano. I was in heaven.
His warmth and generosity, however, go far beyond a gorgeous chunk of cheese. He is a culinary leader focused on doing good around the world, most recently, leading Refettorio Gastromotiva, a campaign against food waste that helped feed the homeless at the Rio Olympics. He also created a similar project at Expo 2015 Milano called Refettorio Ambrosiano, and is noble efforts outside the kitchen show why he earns respect around the world.
Once again, I am reminded why dining solo has its advantages. Being in the moment and savoring a personal experience can lead to connections and memories that will last a lifetime. Grazie, Massimo!
Shari Bayer is the founder/president of Bayer Public Relations and the host/producer of All in the Industry on Heritage Radio Network, a weekly Internet-based radio show/podcast dedicated to behind-the-scenes talents in the hospitality industry. She is a fearless solo diner and traveler. Find her on Twitter and Instagram, @sharibayer.