It would be an extreme understatement to say that Massimo Bottura knows good food. The world-renowned Italian chef is deservedly famous as the owner of Osteria Francescana in Modena, Italy, a three-Michelin-star restaurant that took home the title of the World’s Best Restaurant in 2016. This year, the restaurant ranked number two and even had a cameo in Aziz Ansari’s Master of None. That’s remarkable recognition for a chef, but pretty par for the course for Bottura, who has an outsized talent and brings an intensity to his work that would no doubt endanger his home life if he weren’t so devoted to his family.
Massimo and his wife, Lara, are busy raising their two kids, 17-year-old Charlie and 21-year-old Alexa. Charlie was born with a rare genetic disorder that requires constant care to address his unique needs. While raising Charlie has been challenging, Massimo revels in the opportunity to share moments with his son, and is as committed to spending quality time with his whole family as he is to making food.
What is your name?
I’m a chef.
How old are your children?
One is 17, and the other is 21.
What are their names?
Charlie and Alexa.
Are they named after anyone in particular?
Alexa, Alexandra, is from Lara’s sister. And Charlie was Carlo, but he was growing up and we were looking at him and decided, “No, this is Charlie Brown, it’s not Carlo.” So, it’s Charlie forever.
Do you have any cute nicknames for your kids?
We call Alexa “Lexi” and Charlie is Charlie.
What do they call you?
Dad. That’s it.
How often do you see them?
Alexa, every couple of months. I always find a way to come to New York or Washington, D.C. Charlie, I see every day.
Describe yourself as a father in three words.
Straight. Tender, because everything they want, in the end, they have it. Very, very open to persuasion.
Describe your father in three words.
Not open. Hard. And stubborn. It was very difficult. My relationship with my father was extremely difficult. I’m a chef because of my mom and my brother, Paulo. Because my father didn’t want me to do that. He wanted me to take care of our family company with my older brother. My mom, she was the one who pushed me to follow my passion.
What are your weaknesses as a father?
I’m too tender. When they come and they kiss me, and talk to me, I can’t say no. This is a weakness.
What is your biggest regret as a father?
Maybe not having enough time. But it’s not about how much time you devote to your kids, it’s about the quality of the time you devote to your kids. Everything I do, I do for my family. And my family could be Alexa, Charlie, and Lara, but also Osteria Francescana. And now, also, all these families we have around the world.
What is your favorite activity to do with your kids?
There’s no special activities. For me, every single moment is something special. For example, with Alexa, when we go out and shop together, we do it once, maybe twice a year, but we have to do it in a good way, so we have fun. And with Charlie it’s more playing together. He’s part of a soccer team, I love soccer, as any Italian. I love to see Charlie growing and understanding the spirit of sports, but also the spirit of trying to win. The competition. In the last match they had, they really came very close to winning. They usually lose 7-0, 11-0, 11-1, but last time, they started on the sand with this kind of spirit, and we had so much fun, and they just lost 4-3. It was a very close game.
What has been the moment you’ve been most proud of as a parent?
It’s not one moment. I’m proud of what Alexa does in school, or how she’s really into university. The moment when they asked her to work for the university, that meant a lot.
What heirloom did your father give you, if any?
He was a very good businessman. He always helped me. One plus one always equals two, it can’t equal one, otherwise you’re going out of business.
What heirloom do you want to leave for your children?
The obsession about quality. That can be ideas, or whatever. Quality in life is very, very important.
Describe the “dad special” for dinner.
I never cook at home, but when I cook, I make a special pasta with pesto. It’s Charlie’s favorite. For Alexa, it’s like tortellini.
Are you religious, and are you raising your children in that tradition?
I’m not really religious. To me, religion can be a double-edged sword. I raise them with a lot of respect and a lot of rules, but they have to choose, by themselves.
What is a mistake you made growing up that you want to ensure your children don’t repeat?
I always thought that I was very wild when I was a child. But it was a different time. It was the ‘70s. Sometimes I was risking my life with crazy things, but I see my children are much better than me. They’re much more responsible than me. This is very good.
Apart from saying it, how do you let your kids know that you love them?
They see. They see me and every moment, how I act with them. They know I love them a lot.