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Inside Massimo Bottura's Hotel

Feature: Long Read
Words by Amy Broomfield

Chef – and unlikely social media star – Massimo Bottura now has the perfect place to unwind: his beautifully upgraded Italian hotel, where guests are part of the family.  

When he isn’t dreaming up fantastical story-telling dishes at his Michelin three-starred restaurant, Osteria Francescana, Massimo and his wife Lara Gilmore play host at the ultimate home-away-from-home getaway: Casa Maria Luigia. Describing it as his “jewel”, Bottura bought the country house estate in the Emilia-Romagna region in northern Italy with a view to doing something completely different and revolutionary when it came to hospitality. And so far, so good.

Large picture on wall with two cube red stools

“When we found it, it had been abandoned for 10 years, and we had to place an offer to buy it through the courts,” he recalls. The couple set to work straight away; Gilmore focused on the garden, which today functions as the hotel’s marketplace for fresh produce, while Bottura concentrated on the music room that would house his collection of vinyl.       Over lockdown, while the hotel was closed, the couple expanded the estate further, adding in a gym and sauna. A stay at the sprawling estate includes a personal welcome by the chef and his wife, with guests invited to treat the property as their own, help themselves to chef-made delights in the kitchen and enjoy the homemade Lambrusco. And mealtimes are, of course, a highlight.

Massimo Bottura

“Our chef, Jessica Rosval, who has just been named Chef of the Year in Italy, presents the story behind every dish,” reveals Bottura. “It’s a really theatrical experience. Our guests go crazy for that!”

Bedroom with bright pink flamingo wallpaper

“When we found it, it had been abandoned for 10 years, and we had to place an offer to buy it through the courts,” he recalls. The couple set to work straight away; Gilmore focused on the garden, which today functions as the hotel’s marketplace for fresh produce, while Bottura concentrated on the music room that would house his collection of vinyl.       Over lockdown, while the hotel was closed, the couple expanded the estate further, adding in a gym and sauna. A stay at the sprawling estate includes a personal welcome by the chef and his wife, with guests invited to treat the property as their own, help themselves to chef-made delights in the kitchen and enjoy the homemade Lambrusco. And mealtimes are, of course, a highlight.

Massimo Bottura


"We won a Webby award...it was unbelievable! Me, my daughter and just one iPhone."

One of the most famous chefs to have emerged out of Italy, and having appeared on Netflix’s Chef’s Table, the charismatic Bottura is no stranger to the limelight. But no-one was more surprised than himself at how his popularity grew over lockdown – which was essentially down to his 24-year-old daughter Alexa. Furloughed at the time from her job, she created Instagram Lives of her father cooking. “I didn’t even know what an Instagram Live was!” he exclaims. “But my daughter said, ‘We have to do it!’ We didn’t know anything, it was unexpected. But then again, I always keep a door open for the unexpected.”     

‘Kitchen Quarantine’, as the series was named, was an instant success. Filmed in Bottura’s modest Modena apartment, one video of him making béchamel sauce racked up half a million views. “Come on! It’s the most basic sauce you can make!” he told The New Yorker in an interview in April last year. But clearly something differentiated his content from that of every other chef... perhaps his lo-fi approach with playful cameos of his family? “I don’t know,” he says. “It was all very natural. It was not a masterclass. I was just talking and involving my friends from in and around the food  industry.”  

After the first episode went live, on 13th March 2020, The New Yorker asked for that interview. A month later, Facebook contacted him to praise the series for connecting people during lockdown; and then Google made a sizeable donation to Bottura’s charity, Food for Soul, in return for an edition of the show created for its own employees. The pinnacle, though, was a call from New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern, requesting a special video using produce from her native country.      

“In the end, we won a Webby award!” says Bottura. “It was unbelievable. Incredible! There are companies that invest millions in this kind of thing, but we won. Me, my daughter and just one iPhone."

  • Living room with leather sofas and large art on the wall
  • Outside of Massimo Bottura home
  • Massimo Bottura and his family cooking in the kitchen
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Large art on the wall behind an armchair and stool

It was quite a departure from Bottura’s ‘day job’ – in both 2016 and 2018, Osteria Francescana was named the World’s Best Restaurant. Here, he tells captivating tales via exceptional dishes created in a Ferran Adrià-esque style – and indeed, in 2000, he spent time working with Adrià. Prior to that, he had been trained by Alain Ducasse; in an interview with The Guardian in 2014, he claimed that meeting Ducasse was the “most important day in his life” – and the Italian clearly made an impression: in the same article, Ducasse called Bottura “indispensable... talented, psychedelic, generous, hedonist, flamboyant” with “two feet deeply rooted in his dear Emilia-Romagna and his head geared towards tomorrow”.  

Alongside stellar chefs, Bottura’s reflections on his culinary path mention a childhood spent “under the table”, a term he uses to refer to helping his mother and grandmother prepare family meals, highlighting that as where he really began to hone his craft. And while, on paper, his profession may be chef or restaurateur, over the course of his career, his peers have dubbed him a visionary, a poet and a storyteller.   

His menu at Osteria Francescana is a prime example of that, acting as a nostalgic playback of his seemingly idyllic life. Take, for example, his signature ‘Five Ages of Parmigiano-Reggiano’, which pays homage to the region he loves. Then there’s ‘The Crunchy Part of Lasagne’ (which, we can all agree, is the best part!) and ‘Oops, I Dropped the Lemon Tart’, which came about after his sous chef actually dropped a lemon tart – but it looked so incredible that it changed the way the dish was served thereafter.     

At other times, there are inspired menu themes, drawing on anything from the 1967 Beatles album Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band to his mother’s love of the opera. These days, Bottura divides his time between his restaurant and Casa Maria Luigia, the latter providing a much-needed refuge from his nonstop pre-lockdown lifestyle. “I was travelling maybe 150 to 200 days of the year, always in a rush,” says the chef. “When I was flying all over the world, it was the feeling of being at home I missed. So Maria Luigia was rebuilt to feel like my home.”  

Desk and chairs

Which is your favourite room at Casa Maria Luigia?  
The music room. I moved some 6,000 vinyl records from a different collection to that room to give every single guest the opportunity to sit in the room and listen to rare Charlie Parker or Miles Davis or Mozart recordings.  

What did you renovate first after you bought the estate?  
Lara was extremely focused on rebuilding the garden when we were first here. We restored the tennis court – we didn’t even know we had one! After that, Lara planted flowers, vegetables and fruit trees, so it’s like we have our own shop of fresh herbs, vegetables, wheat and farro, barley and buckwheat.    

What sort of things do you collect?  
I love collecting everything – including watches even though I don’t wear them... I don’t know why. My whole family loved to collect – my brother is really into cars and my mum loved the opera.  

How would you describe your taste in art?   
It’s really contemporary. I like western art – Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin, Jake and Dinos Chapman. I also like Italian Transavanguardia: Cucchi, Clemente, Paladino, Sandro Chia. And then there are American and East Village-generation artists such as Robert Longo, David Salle, Cindy Sherman. I also love Julian Schnabel and Peter Halley.    

Tell us about the kitchen at Casa Maria Luigia...  
It’s an open space, like my home. It’s where our chefs prepare snacks such as chocolate-chip cookies, breadsticks, muffins, things made from stuff in the garden. Everything in the kitchen is free... Parmigiano Reggiano, balsamic vinegar. We make all of our own balsamic.    

What’s the key to a successful dinner party?  
Good vibes. If you have a very important dinner party, the key point is the smile and welcome that you give to your guests. It puts everyone in a good mood.  

How do you relax?  
By working. My passions are music, art, fast cars and motorcycles and, of course, cooking. So cooking is my passion, and when I cook, I relax. I don’t know if it’s like that for you, but spending time in the kitchen – chopping, sautéing, tasting – is a very relaxing exercise.  

What does luxury mean to you?  
To me, luxury is the life I live. I created my life, I always live my life as a dreamer. I’m blessed to be born with such an incredible energy that I’m always projecting into the future.  

Set The Scene

Armchair in front of a bookshelf

Photographer: Filippo Bamberghi/Photofoyer

Home table setting with plates, glasses, flowers and candles

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