Massimo Bottura‘s Never Trust a Skinny Chef (Phaidon 2014) does not have a chef – fat or thin – or any other photo on it’s cover. That underscores the fact that this is about changing perspective. What does that mean?
The stories of the recipes are narrated to help show the contexts of the classic traditional dishes we know and love. They explore the ingredients that form the backbone of Italy as well as examining the role of the arts in the kitchen…We have stretched our culinary traditions so thin they almost disappear, but – much to our surprise – out of the distortion there is always a return to order (p. 11)
In other words, fear not, there is familiarity here, and good food, plus excellent photographs by Stefano Graniani and Carlo Benevenuto. Start with his essay on mortadella, that most succulent of Italian sliced meats – turned into boring bologna in the US. “Memory of a Mortadella Sandwich” (p. 22), describes why Massimo wanted to create mortadella foam.
I was chasing a memory, and what is a memory if not a pure essence distilled by time? Nothing is added to the mortadella; the work in the kitchen helps the ingredient become more like itself.
In search of the intense flavor of mortadella sandwiches of his childhood, leads to mortadella foam. He argues against nostalgia and for creating the best from local ingredients. He continually pokes fun and jokes about closely held food prejudices. When faced with the local debate of whose tortellini are best – he presents Tortellini Walking on Broth (p. 36) with a tongue in cheek poke at Jesus – in this case six tortellini walking on a capon broth thickened with agar agar. The recipes are at the back of the book, but the stories and the images are the focus. His process of take a step or many steps away from his cooking is the point of this book.
How like a poet he is, with inspiration coming from all over and everything. Never Trust a Skinny Italian Chef is an engaging book that instructs us not to forget to use all our senses when we cook and when we eat.