Scene: Italy, COVID-19[feminine] lockdown, first night. A family outside Modena wonders what to have for dinner. Mom looks in the fridge. Dad swallows pistachios. Son atomizes something in the microwave. The girl looks up from the phone, shakes her head. There you have it, his light bulb moment: a cooking show for the quarantined, by the quarantined. How to do? Who to pitch to? Netflix, Apple, Disney+? Another idea: FaceTime a focus group, to test the concept. “I filmed my dad cooking,” 23-year-old Alexa Bottura said recently. The answer: More, please. “I was, like, if my friends who are in their early twenties are interested in it – they’re bored, they don’t know what they’re doing, but they want to know what my dad is doing – I wonder what people would think.
“Kitchen Quarantine” features Alexa’s father, Massimo, the chef of the three-Michelin-starred Osteria Francescana in Modena. It airs every night on Instagram. Her team is small (Alexa: director, executive producer, cameraman; also, recently laid off Maserati employee), her airtime is approximate (about 8 pm.), and its format is as malleable as a mound of pizza dough. An episode can be twenty minutes or forty-five minutes long, start in Italian and end in English, offer instructions on how to start a bechamel sauce (step one: heat butter and flour in a saucepan), or include a request for donations (to buy an ambulance for the city). The constants: food, conviviality and the call for viewers to wash their hands. Each episode garners a live audience of around three thousand (others view archived versions later); real-time feedback comes in the form of a stream of emoji (mostly hearts), comments (“That’s a lot of olive oil”), and questions (“Can I be put in quarantine with Massimo, please?”).
“It’s not a master class, it’s not a cooking show, it’s just us, cooking dinner,” said Lara, Massimo’s wife. She wore a beige bathrobe and sat down at a dining table, which had just been cleared of loot from the last episode: tubular pasta in a sauce with heirloom tomatoes, asparagus, and Luganica sausage; a cheesecake topped with raspberries and a balsamic vinegar reduction. “We are a family of restaurants. We don’t do that. You never really know what Massimo is going to cook, or what mood Charlie”—their nineteen-year-old son, who has autism—“is going to be in.” She added, “If you can take something from this, or some inspiration to use an ingredient in your fridge in a different way, that’s all we want.” But an increased cooking IQ couldn’t hurt. “Half a million people watched the video on how to make bechamel,” Massimo said. “Come on! This is the most basic sauce you can make.
Short of supplies, on a recent Friday, Massimo and Alexa made their weekly trip to Modena’s Mercato Albinelli, a cavernous eighty-eight-year-old market with dozens of vendors. A correspondent in Los Angeles joined them via WhatsApp. “Only leaving the house when you really need to is the only way to stop this virus,” Massimo said. He wore a face mask and a Gucci scarf. Alexa said: “We had the big shopping craze a few weeks ago. Now everyone has definitely calmed down. She wore a face mask and a white hoodie. “There’s plenty of toilet paper.”
“One, two, three,” other buyers counted Massimo. He approached a crate of purple artichokes. “Look, how beautiful it is,” he said, holding out his hand. A rubber-gloved worker scolded him. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” Massimo said. “I’m used to touching.” The worker bagged carrots, celery, limes and avocados. “People really enjoyed the guacamole we made,” Massimo said. He and Alexa traded soccer ball-sized lemons. “We’re going to buy pancetta, drizzle it with balsamic vinegar, serve it with shavings of parmesan. It would be great to add – let’s get some raspberries,” he said. Also: potatoes. “Obviously you must have potatoes at home.” The mozzarella came from a cheese maker wearing blue rubber gloves. Massimo tasted a ribbon of prosciutto offered by another gloved hand, nodded, paid in cash. A butcher lowered his mask to shout: “You are Massimo!
“Whether! the leader shouted back. Alexa watched a butcher break down a chicken behind a strip of yellow duct tape. “We’re going to put the chicken in the freezer and use it to make broth,” Massimo said. “Usually the broth comes from Francescana,” which, like its other twelve outposts around the world, has been closed indefinitely. (The exception: his Milan refettorio, “the only open soup kitchen in Milan,” he said. He sent the employees of his new restaurant, Gucci Osteria, in Beverly Hills, to a soup kitchen on Skid Row.) The father and daughter returned to the vegetable vendor to collect their bags. “We’re done,” Massimo said. Time control: thirty-four minutes. They emerged towards the sun. “Usually this square is packed,” Massimo said. “Now nobody.” He noted two officers stationed near a steeple, to make sure “no one person is that close to each other”. He saw the square: pigeons, a cloudless blue sky. “It’s surreal,” he said. ” On-real.♦