In the evening of October 26th, multi-awarded celebrity chef Mario Batali presented and signed copies of his
just released cookbook, Big American Cookbook. 250 favorite recipes from across the USA.
At first blush, the venue - a meeting room in Pasadena Presbyterian Church - didn’t seem fit for an event that explicitly encouraged the audience to give in to the temptations of gluttony.
However, at a closer look, you could notice how, very fittingly, adjacent to the church it stands Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts - although not for long, as the French-inspired professional chefs’ school in Pasadena, along with other 15 across the US, are slated to shut down in the near future.
Many renowned chefs have trained at this worldwide famed institution, including Batali, who attended for a few months London-based Le Cordon Bleu.
Moderator of the evening was Russ Parsons, former food writer and columnist at the Los Angeles Times. In a word, a real American gourmet.
Batali’s book presentation turned out to be a fantastic occasion to get to know more about the chef, but also the man behind the apron.
Hearing him talking, it immediately stands out how, besides being a food expert and enthusiast, Mario is a real entertainer, who loves to make people hold their bellies for too much laughter and not simply too much delicious food.
Born and raised in Seattle, Washington, by Armandino Batali, who worked for over two decades in the aircraft industry (Boeing), and currently owns Salumi - “salumeria” and restaurant in downtown Seattle – with his wife Marylin, former nurse practitioner, Mario divided his education between Madrid, New Jersey, London, and Borgo Capanne, village in Northern Italy.
Early influenced by the “Stromboli” culinary tradition - that focuses on a calzone-like turnover filled with various cheeses (typically mozzarella) and various Italian cold cuts (the likes of salami, capicola and bresaola) or vegetables – Batali went on to revolutionize Italian cuisine with his own distinct signature.
After having gained momentum on the New York food scene, through Italian restaurants Rocco’s and Po, in 1998, Mario partnered with fellow Italian-American chef Joe Bastianich and together they opened Babbo Ristorante e Enoteca, first Italian restaurant to obtain the coveted three stars recognition from the New York Times in 40 years.
Simultaneously, Batali’s fame rose to incredible heights, as he became a popular TV chef for the Food Network’s show, “Molto Mario” (aired from 1996 to 2004).
Mario’s stardom hasn’t faltered since. In 2005, the prestigious James Beard Foundation named Batali “Outstanding Chef of the Year” and, again in 2008, the same culinary institution named him “Best Restaurateur of the Year.”
Since 2011, Batali has been starring in ABC’s Daytime Emmy-winner food show, “The Chew.”
Today, he and Joe co-own a culinary empire of twenty-six restaurants: eleven restaurants in New York, four restaurants in Las Vegas, three restaurants in Los Angeles (one in Newport Beach), one in Boston, two in Connecticut, two restaurants in Singapore, two restaurants in Hong Kong.
Parallel to the restaurants, in 2010, Mario and partners Joe, Lidia Bastianich, and Oscar Farinetti opened Eataly NYC, a majestic marketplace and eatery in Manhattan’s Flatiron District. Today, other two Eataly’s locations are operative in NYC Downtown and Chicago, as a fourth is about to open in Boston, a fifth will be inaugurated in Culver City, next May, and a sixth is scheduled to open in Las Vegas, in 2018.
Recently, Batali had the honor to prepare the final President Obama’s state dinner at the White House, with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and wife, Mrs. Agnese Landini attending.
When he’s not in a TV recording studio, at one of his restaurants’ stove, or penning one of his award-winning cookbooks, the chef turns into a “Good Samaritan” and, through his Mario Batali Foundation, helps underprivileged children receive education, be well fed and be well cared for.
How was growing up in an Italian-American household? Is there a specific childhood’s episode that influenced you deeply, informing somehow your future career? If not, what stirred your passion about cooking?
Calves Brain Ravioli. It might not have been what my American neighbors were eating, but this dish was front and center on my family dinner table on Sundays. My grandmother Leonetta Batali used to make legendary ravioli with oxtail ragu. Sweet Italian sausage, ricotta cheese and Swiss chard melded so deliciously in between the perfect blankets of pasta that she made. If this meal didn’t stir my passion for cooking, I don’t know what did.
In your early cookbooks, including the James Beard Award Winning, Molto Italiano: 327 Simple Italian Recipes, you focused specifically on Italian cuisine. In your opinion, what makes it unique? Also, what’s your favorite Italian dish?
It’s what I’ve always known and loved. I find the same joy in making my ten thousandth cavatelli as I do with making the first.
Anything that anyone else makes is my favorite dish. If I had to pick, though, its Linguine with Clams. Choose the freshest clams and go with a linguine pasta that you love. It’s as delightful as the ingredients are fresh and follows my motto in cooking to stay simple. Finish the dish with chopped parsley, a pinch of chili flakes. Twirl the pasta with your right hand and sip on a glass of crisp white wine from your left.
What’s the mission of your Mario Batali Foundation (established in 2008)? What are the main challenges faced by the charity organization and its biggest achievements?
Making sure children are well read, well fed and well cared for. My foundation educates and empowers children and encourages them to go after their dreams – whatever those maybe. Kids aren’t going to study more if they are hungry. They aren’t going to be inspired to read great novels without a proper education. These problems are not hard to fix, and they need our diligent attention and most importantly, our action.
Tell us more about your longstanding partnership with restaurateur Joe Bastianich and your upcoming opening of Eataly L.A.? Do you like Los Angeles’ food scene?
Joe and I go way back to 1998, when we first opened Babbo together. Eataly LA? We are on cloud nine. This will be our fifth Eataly location and first on the West Coast.
I love L.A. During my recent Big American Cookbook book tour’s stop in the “city of angels,” I got to chat with my old pal Russ Parson, hang out with my partner Nancy Silverton and our formidable team at Chi Spacca, Pizzeria Mozza, Osteria Mozza and Mozza2Go.
I had also the chance to have dinner at one of the best resort in the country, Providence, where chef/restaurateur Michael Cimarusti is pushing the boundaries between total luxury and sheer fun. L.A. is a truly hot and fantastic scene these days.
Support L'Italo-Americano Foundation through its fundraising efforts that allow us to promote and preserve the Italian culture and heritage in the US. Enter to win fantastic prizes Including a vacation in Florence.