Cover Chef Massimo Bottura (Photo: Gucci Osteria da Massimo Bottura)

For those planning a jaunt to South Korea this spring, Massimo Bottura’s newest opening in Seoul is a worthy detour—if you managed to snag a table

Oops! I Dropped the Lemon Tart and Five Ages of Parmesan—dishes which almost single-handledly re-invented modern Italian cuisine. Three Michelin stars at Osteria Francescana for ten years running. An iconic appearance on Netflix's Chef's Table. A ground-breaking culinary social enterprise, Food for Soul and its Refettorio social kitchens in cities around the world. Oh, and the World's Best Restaurant not once but twice, in 2016 and 2018.

Achieving all of the above is testament to the talents of Italian maestro Massimo Bottura, who has never been one to take things easy, or to stay put. Instead, his famously legendary energy has recently been channelled into the latest opening of his Gucci Osteria da Massimo Bottura, in the swanky district of Itaewon, Seoul.

See also: 30 Quick Questions with Massimo Bottura

It follows openings in Rodeo Drive, California, and Ginza, Tokyo, after the original launched in Florence back in 2018. Bottura has crafted the menus together with executive chef Hyungkyu Jun and head chef Davide Cardellini, combining creative Italian dishes such as his Emilia Burger with seasonally-driven plates inspired by Korea, such as Seoul Garden.

If there were any doubts as to the appeal of his latest venture, just look at the reservations book—all tables in the 64-seater sold out for the first two months within four minutes of going online.

Here, Bottura tells Tatler Dining exclusively about the Seoul opening, coming through the pandemic and why social impact dining is now more important now than ever.

How will the senses of diners at Gucci Osteria da Massimo Bottura in Seoul be awakened?

I hope the guests feel special, taken care of, and brought into a very beautiful world where everything matters, even the smallest butterfly. Together, the Gucci family and Francescana family have created a world of references in each of the Gucci Osteria locations. There is the craftsmanship of the design and décor, with elements that one can identify in each location. There is also playfulness and a desire to bring colour and whimsy to Italian dining.  And, then, of course, the cuisine is a very poetic interpretation of Italian and Asian flavours coming together in a great ‘eclat’ ,or collision, creating waves of new and reflections of the past. It is a very interesting combination that stimulates the mind, body, and soul.

Which other cities in Asia are under consideration to add to Tokyo and Seoul? We'd love to see you in Hong Kong, Singapore or elsewhere.

I always keep the door open to the unexpected! In my future there is always a future!

Will there be similar dishes on the menu in Seoul as in your other locations?

Each Gucci Osteria has its own narrative and identity which is very much linked to the cultural heritage of the city where it is located. All of them are Osterias because they are casual dining spaces, offering all-day dining, and an array of dishes. Gucci Osteria in Florence is located inside Gucci Garden which sits in the Piazza della Signoria square, in one of the most famous cities in the world. There, Co-Executive Chefs Karime Lopez and Takahiko Kondo, create menus that reflect Florence’s long history of hosting travellers from around the world. It is a kitchen that pays culinary homage to Asian, North, and South American and European influences. 

At Gucci Osteria in Beverly Hills, head chef Mattia Agazzi, from Bergamo in the north of Italy, celebrates the Los Angeles culinary scene while reimagining local flavours with an Italian twist. In a similar fashion, at Gucci Osteria Tokyo chef Antonio Iacoviello, from Benevento in the south of Italy, embraces Japanese food culture, with its produce and its traditions to give guests a unique dining experience that will incorporate the identity of its location.

There is an invisible thread that runs through each Gucci Osteria globally: one that entwines Italian food with the food and produce of other great global cuisines, in a playful and elegant way.  Korea, like Italy, embraces its food as part of its culture, and I can’t wait for you to try Gucci Osteria Seoul!

Can you talk us through some of the locally influenced and inspired dishes that diners can expect in Seoul, like Seoul Garden?

I would prefer that guests have a ‘surprise effect’ when they visit Gucci Osteria Seoul! What I can say is that the dish “Seoul Garden” is a great example of what the project wants to communicate: the playful and elegant combination of Italian recipes and flavours with Korean ingredients, seasoned with a passion for creativity and quality, which I share with Gucci. Our two chefs, Jun and Davide, have gathered seasonal herbs, greens, and flowers, many of which they picked themselves at a local farm, and dressed them with a dressing made with anchovies and Villa Manodori Balsamic Vinegar from Modena and Parmigiano Reggiano chips.

How have you chosen chef Hyungkyu Jun and head chef Davide Cardellini to lead the restaurant?

The kitchen of each Gucci Osteria outside of Italy is led by a local chef and an Italian chef, who work together to create a menu that reflects the encounter of the two cultures. The two chefs put together their knowledge, culture, and experience not only in the dishes but also in their approach to work, team management, and the world of hospitality, to give life to the most harmonious contamination of cultures.

Are you confident that your global restaurants have turned a corner after the nightmare of Covid? As a famous optimist, what good were you able to take from the pandemic?

The last few years have certainly tested humanity. We have been scarred by the pandemic and conflicts that have erupted around the world. This great suffering has created the need for more joy, love, understanding, and action. Among all the sufferings we all experienced, the past two years have taken many things away from us, but it has also given us something very precious: time. Time to think, time to act. I am more convinced than ever that the gastronomic world, like that of art, design, and architecture, can do more; we can look outside our kitchen and studios and projects, toward those in need, and our planet, a place very much in need of care.

Your work has always been underpinned by a true social conscience and sustainability; can you tell us about Food for Soul?

Refettorio comes from the Latin word “reficere”: to remake, to restore. A Refettorio nourishes not just the body but also the soul. It is a place where you are invited to share a meal. Each Refettorio collects surplus food and gives it a new life, transforming it into delicious meals for those in need. Each Refettorio is a cultural project, a space that unites people, revives neighborhoods, and restores dignity through beauty and community. When you invest in ideas, beauty, and hospitality, you are bringing everyone together to shape the future; to make a difference; to be part of the solution.  

Also, in less than six years, Food for Soul opened 13 Refettorios across nine countries around the world. There is so much global interest as the world becomes more aware of the need to act for change. We try to cater to each demand, partnering with a local non-profit to create spaces that could uplift those most vulnerable, bring people together and at the same time act sustainably.

Our partnerships are what ensure the longevity of these spaces so that they can exist for a long time and become important community centers. In just the last two years of the pandemic, the projects have saved over 670 tons of food and served over 1.5 million meals as well as 1.85 million fresh food boxes. Food for Soul action has reached over 850,000 guests all around the world thanks to the incredible work of over 100,00 people including chefs, volunteers and apprentices.

In 2020, our Refettorios have doubled their impact both in the amount of food saved and meals served. We have opened Refettorios in so many places around the world and the doors are always open. They are serving lunches and dinners. They are welcoming individuals and families. They are engaging chefs and volunteers. We are creating a dialogue and learning that sharing a meal is a gesture of inclusion—my mom used to say so! And sharing is the biggest joy in life.

Gucci Osteria Da Massimo Bottura in Seoul is now open at Gucci Gaok, 6F, 223, Itaewon-Ro, Yongsan-Gu, Seoul

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