In talks with: Bruno Barbieri
Photograph by Alex Alberton
The Italian Chef with the highest number of Michelin Stars (seven to date), Bruno Barbieri is fairly contentious in gastronomic spheres. Not only did he (in)famously tell the press that UK diners didn’t understand Italian cuisine following the closure of this London restaurant Cotidie in 2013 – amongst other complaints, the high price of rent in the UK capital, the lack of good ingredients and the disparity between Italian food in New York, where he believes the best Italian food outside of Italy can be found and London where it is seriously lacking – Bruno Barbieri is outspoken about his food philosophy.
If looking good is important to you, what you are putting in your mouth is what needs to be addressed first and foremost, and we don’t doubt his commitment, since aesthetically Barbieri doesn’t necessarily look like your average chef. With a career that began on cruise ships, he has travelled the world far and wide gaining knowledge of diverse cultures and cooking techniques. Now back in his native Italy, he is in the midst of renovating a traditional Emilian trattoria in the city of Bologna where he plans to scale back menus and source the most simple and local ingredients. Since 2011 he has been one of three judges on MasterChef Italy.
We spoke with the gastronomic titan about his culinary theories.
What are the most important things you have learnt in your career to date? During a chef’s career there are so many lessons to be learnt, even after 30 years there is still something to learn because the kitchen is always evolving; it never stays the same. For me, the greatest experience was when I was working on cruise ships during the ‘80s where we cooked with precision; we used French technique which was a great stepping stone in my learning.
You like to take care of yourself to stay looking good and keep healthy. In your opinion what is the link between eating well and looking good? I think it’s really important for us all to feel good in ourselves and lead healthy lives. Looking for the right ingredients is fundamental in order to achieve a balance between enjoying food and looking good. If you are healthy this is because you eat well, work hard and think in the right way. When you are in the kitchen you need to treat things in the right way, you must search for the fundamentals and find the soul of a dish; every dish you create should be a reflection of yourself or who you want to be.
“Every dish you create should be a reflection of yourself or who you want to be.”
What has the experience of being on the judging panel of MasterChef and Junior MasterChef in Italy taught you? I learnt many things; how to control myself, understand what makes people tick, seeing how their personalities shine through and also assist the contestants in times of stress to deal with the tests and produce incredible dishes.
When working on Junior MasterChef I learnt that the most important thing is to listen. I learnt that in life the most important thing is to be honest with yourself. Once this happens everything becomes much easier.
Emilian by birth and a staunch believer in Italian cuisine, what are the ingredients you love from your region and where do you source them? I adore stuffed pastas; tortelloni, tortellini, lasagne, white truffle, salami and Mortadella – the only salume produced in Bologna. It’s important to always be looking for small producers and local farmers. They maintain the link with tradition. Of course, at the same time as respecting tradition everything needs to be addressed with a modern touch. My cooking style is one that tells the true tale of Italian history to date.
Translated by Isabel Carmichael
February 17th 2016