EAT, DRINK & BE MARIO
A Spotlite on Revolutionary Chef MARIO BATALI
By Anita Marie Antonini
There are two things in my life that I am really proud of being. The first is that I’m an Italian and the second is that I’m a New Yorker. So there wasn’t a better assignment for me than interviewing Mario Batali for PMc Magazine’s Revolutionary Issue.
Mario & I share our traditions, even though neither one of us was born in Italy or NYC. Instead, we inherited our traits from our parents or earned them by living, breathing and eating in the Big Apple for decades now.
Nothing gives me more a sense of belonging in this town than seeing him jet around Greenwich Village on his Vespa, with the streak of orange flashing from his signature footwear as he flies by, determined and smiling like a man who’s racing to his next meal. In this case, it’s because he’s the chef and business owner of multiple restaurants and shops all over the place here (and beyond).
On the constant move in the kitchen, TV or iPad, there is no one more on the revolutionary path than Mario when it comes to working hard at cooking, loving what you do in the restaurant business and giving back via philanthropy.
As one of my favorite adventures so far as Editor-at-Large of PMc Magazine, I caught up with him to discuss the future of food including gardening, technology and living well. A recipe that is both very old school Italian mixed with NYC modernity. And that’s what I call a buona cosa.
Anita Marie Antonini: I grew up around food simply by being Italian. My maternal grandmother lived with us and she was always cooking up something in the kitchen from morning until night. Or out in the yard tending to her garden. Not such revolutionary acts for an old lady, but how funny it seems today that those humble dedications really are the new revolutionary things to do: home cooking and edible gardens.
You just watched and learned in Nana’s day–no cookbooks, and very much like what cooking shows on TV are today. But electronic cookbooks and iPad apps about cooking, as you know, are now here, with more on the horizon. Which brings me to my first question: if there is one book that I don’t see being replaced in the future it’s the cookbook. It is all about the next generation and giving them their experience. The revolution part is found in how a practice is seen and done. Please tell us about your first app, Mario Batali Cooks!, plus how you feel about technology and the future of cooking?
Mario Batali: People don’t watch TV on TV screens anymore. My sons watch content exclusively on devices: phones, tablets, etc. Our industry is going to have to ride that wave too. Anthony Sasso, the chef at Casa Mono, filmed a cool video for eater a few months back, cooking his signature dish to a great new rock song. That’s a step in the right direction. Mario Batali Cooks! was my first attempt to break into that world. It’s an app for iPhone, iPad and Android with recipes, travel guides, grocery lists and exclusive video content.
But I agree, if there’s one book form that will endure, it’s the cookbook. People like to live in their cookbooks, make notations and stains. An iPhone will never take it’s place, but it can come close.
AMA: Breaking some bread and sharing a meal almost seems revolutionary these days in our fast-paced, processed, packaged world. Bringing me to the next question about Eataly and doing the shopping. An experience where senses come alive and it’s not a chore. How do you see in our Wal-Mart and super Stop & Shop nation that Americans can get back to basics? Food to table and locally grown, getting your hands a little dirty while drinking a nice Rosé or Chianti, of course, depending on what is being served. Do you think that we as a society all need to stop and smell the basil?
MB: The family meal is an American institution that’s all but disappeared over the last half a century. It’s a time for family to come together and share stories. No matter where you live, whether you’re in New York City or Maui or Omaha, choose items in the grocery store that most recently left the ground. Unless you’re in Maui, tomatoes likely went a long way before they made it to your shelves, but a potato could be from a few miles away.
AMA: Mario Batali is a brand (in the same way that Patrick McMullan is), but also a person who hangs out with his kids, giving them jobs in the kitchen for involvement. It’s a serious business for you (as photography is for us) and we love it deeply. Can please you comment on how a true success is to do what you love?
MB: Cooking is my job, but I love going to work every day.
AMA: Eat, drink & be merry, or Mario in this case, right? But there is also seriousness to food and our culture, which you address in your foundation, Mario Batali Foundation, and your collaboration with the New York Botanical Garden, Mario Batali’s Edible Garden. Education, giving back and being present is something important to you, so I’m curious what is the latest news in your world about how to make the world a better place through food?
MB: We founded the Mario Batali Foundation a few years ago with the mission to ensure that all children are well read, well fed, and well cared for. We chose children because they’re innocent and because they have the ability to make change. And it can’t happen if they’re without food, health and the ability to read.
Water safety is the next hot button issue in this country.
AMA: I was born in the year of the Rabbit in Chinese Astrology and am a fellow Virgo. We are very aware of appearance and how one’s life is presented can make all the difference. In my mind you are revolutionary in the way that you approach living, being true to yourself and creating like every day is a happy, sunny day if you eat right and ENJOY yourself. Plus, congratulations on ABC’s The Chew. I know there is no better compliment than when people enjoy your food. Comments on providing happiness to others through your art of cooking and enjoying life please?
MB: My work is about creating an experience and making people happy. There’s little more satisfying than preparing a meal for others. That said, my favorite meal to eat is anything anyone else makes.
AMA: One last question that I have to ask because I’m a huge Wes Anderson fan. You had the part of a rabbit yourself in The Fantastic Mr. Fox. How did that come about and what was the experience like to play a role in a movie?
MB: They approached me to play a chef character and I knew it was a homerun. Wes is a genius.
Critically acclaimed chef, restaurateur, award-winning author, and television personality, Mario Batali is one of the most recognized and respected chefs working in America today. With his business partner Joe Bastianich, Mario has created an uber- successful restaurant and culinary empire in New York, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Singapore.
Mario Batali interviewed by Anita Marie Antonini
Written by Anita Marie Antonini
Photography by Patrick McMullan, Jimi Celeste, Amber de Vos, Will Ragozzino, & Clint Spaulding for Patrick McMullan.com
Design by Marie Havens
Mario Batali, FOOD BANK FOR NEW YORK CITY Presents the 8th Annual CAN-DO AWARDS Dinner, Abigail Kirsch’s Pier Sixty at Chelsea Pier, New York, April 20, 2010, Photography by Jimi Celeste for Patrick McMullan.com
Tom Colicchio & Mario Batali, Epicurious 15th Anniversary Dinner, Eataly, NYC, September 29, 2010, Photography by Will Ragozzino for Patrick McMullan.com
Mario Batali, MARIO BATALI launches Culinary Council with FOOD BANK for NEW YORK and culinary icons to end hunger in NYC, Empire State Building, NYC, December 7, 2010, Photography by Amber de Vos for Patrick McMullan.com
Mario Batali & Jimmy Fallon, THE GQ Gentlemen’s Ball, Edison Ballroom, NYC, October 27, 2010, Photography by Clint Spaulding for Patrick McMullan.com
Mario Batali, BON APPETIT presents Feast or Fashion w/ Lela Rose, 46 White St, NYC, September 15, 2011, Photography by Patrick McMullan for Patrick McMullan.com