By Kate Carlisle


(ANSA) - Rome, January 23 - When Massimo Bottura, one of Italy's best chefs, spoke at the yearly tortellini festival in his home region of Emilia last September, he skipped quickly over the formalities and went straight to another point. 'Now that the emergency is over in the region and the tremors have stopped, don't forget all of those who must now rebuild after the earthquakes,' he told the crowd in the town of Castelfranco Emilia. Bottura has been adamant in his quest to help put the pieces back together in his beloved region of Emilia-Romagna after two successive earthquakes killed 27, left thousands homeless and brought the region's economy to its knees last May. With the damage estimated at approximately five billion euros, reconstruction comes at a cost. 'But it isn't just the bricks and mortar that have been damaged, people's lives have been crushed and even simple daily routines must be rebuilt,' Bottura said. Named the best chef in Italy by that country's Espresso restaurant guide in 2012, Bottura comes from the school of deconstructionist cuisine using traditional ingredients with a twist. His Modena restaurant Osteria Francescana has been ranked the fifth-best restaurant in the world by Restaurant magazine. He thanks his region and its outstanding culinary heritage for a good part of his success. And it is because of his love for his land that Bottura is one of the leading voices in the association 'cheftochef', dedicated to helping the earthquake-struck region rebuild. 'From today on begins phase two of the recovery from the earthquakes - the return to normality in the gastronomic world of Emilia-Romagna,' Bottura said at a press conference in Bologna on Tuesday. Cheftochef has brought together some of the region's most celebrated producers, chefs and restaurateurs who have swung open their doors with the initiative called 'Ristoranti Aperti' or 'Open Restaurants' inviting diners to put their money where their tummy is and support regional producers as they get back on their feet. For the months leading up to the anniversary of the first quake, May 20, the restaurants have prepared menus that will greet customers with creations made exclusively with territorial excellence made by producers dealt a blow by the earthquake. Then, between 20 and 29 May - the day of the second shock - haute cuisine events will be held in cooperation with the region's agricultural department. 'We invite you to visit at least one of the establishments that has been hit by the quakes,' said association member Alessio Malguti, owner of Trattoria la Rosa dal 1908. 'It is in these times that we are all equal and become one. We have to be available and ready to help one another. That is where Emilia-Romagana and its people excel,' Bottura said.