Author Topic: Mario Batali Interview--10/28/08  (Read 4479 times)

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Offline Pete-zza

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Mario Batali Interview--10/28/08
« on: October 28, 2008, 10:44:32 AM »
I have copied and pasted below a recent interview of Mario Batali at There is also an interesting photo of Mario and a slide show accessible at the above website.

Success Stories October 24, 2008, 11:31AM EST text size: TT
Talking to Mario Batali
Chef Mario Batali discusses celebrity, his biggest mistake, and cautions about the possible perils of opening a restaurant in this economic climate
By Stacy Perman

As the owner of 14 restaurants, the author of six cookbooks, and a familiar presence on several TV shows, Mario Batali has entered the rarefied ranks of what is known as the celebrity chef. Born in Seattle and trained at Le Cordon Bleu in London, Batali became known to millions as the host of the Food Network's Molto Mario and Ciao America as well as an intense culinary opponent on Iron Chef America. Batali, who recently kicked off his PBS television series Spain…On The Road Again (with his friend Gwyneth Paltrow), spoke with BusinessWeek's Stacy Perman about starting a restaurant in a bad economy and keeping it going in an industry known for its high failure rates (, 4/16/07). Edited excerpts of their conversation follow.

You opened your first restaurant, Babbo, in 1998. Having just opened your 14th restaurant in September, do you find that it is easier or harder to open another eatery given your track record? Is there pressure to outdo yourself?

It doesn't get easier. You can predict a lot of snafus and be prepared for them. That said, each location is different with a different set of dilemmas and problems that arise.

How did you make the switch from chef to restaurateur?

I still like to think I'm a chef. That said, I realized as I was moving in and around the kitchen, it was kind of the financial center of operations. All of the decisions that you make affect the bottom line.

Then would you say that there are a particular set of skills in being a chef that is directly translatable to being in business?

It happened naturally, but I have a business partner, Joe Bastianich. We each have a different perspective, and we've learned a lot from each other about the front of the house and the back of the house and wine along the way.

What do you account for your success?

I think at the end of every month when someone looks at their credit-card bill and looks at the name of a place and how much they spent there, whether it was $220 at Babbo for two or some place else, they equate it with remembering the experience. [If they think,] yes, it was worth it, they will go back at any price point. That is what keeps people coming to our restaurants.

What do you think of the phenomena of the celebrity chef?

It certainly worked for me. A funny thing happened socially 20 years ago. [Back] then people went out to a show and got a bite or to a game or the opera. Now, there is a fascinating amount of information on how to cook. What happened is suddenly cooks are the performers and actors. People make reservations at restaurants a month in advance—at mine, I hope. People send fan letters. They call us celebrity chefs and there is a brand recognition in what we are selling and making. It is free publicity but it takes a lot of time to make those shows. The only real celebrity chefs are Wolfgang Puck and Emeril Lagasse. Paul Prud'homme was the first. I'm on the B-tier. Julia Child was a famous cook but she was not a restaurant chef.

What were some of the biggest lessons you learned along the way?

Clearly the people are the true gold supply in a restaurant, and they are not as quickly or easily replaceable as you may imagine. I'm talking about everyone from the coffee maker to the bartender to the captain. You have to have everyone committed, and you have to commit to them.

What would you say was your biggest mistake?

Letting people get lured away by people offering them 10% more. The big lesson is that you do not have to make all the money—you can share a lot of it.

What would you advise a young restaurateur wanting to open a restaurant in this economy?

I would advise them to wait. This bailout could be a disaster or a bump in the road. But if you have the capital and the real estate, proceed. Customers are not looking for exotic, hot restaurants—now they want comfort, something they can afford. There are still lots of people with disposable income. Our restaurants are still all up compared to last year.

What would you say is a reason to open a restaurant?

The main reason is because you love the business of making food and beverage available to customers. They come in and you treat them like special members of your family or a fan base. It is evident to anybody who talks to me that I love to go to my job and that I am not looking at the clock to see that there are only two more hours until I can go home. I look at the clock and say, I should have gone home two hours ago. You have to love it, or it's a job and then you should do something else, because owning a restaurant is fraught with risk. The first year failure rate is 70%.

Why is the restaurant business such a risky venture?

I'd say it is because most restaurants are usually undercapitalized. What happens is lots of people come over to your house for dinner and they say you should open a restaurant. But opening up a restaurant is so much more than just being a good cook. That is the hard thing for a lot of people to understand: it's about purchasing up the volume without compromising.

For example, there's somebody's Italian aunt who is a great cook. Somebody says we'll back you in a restaurant—it is every mom and pop's dream. They get a critical review and they do one full seating and all of sudden they have twice as many people coming. Suddenly, auntie is tired of trying to figure out how to make more lasagna and she makes compromises, she lets others do the work, and they don't pick it up or don't capture it the way she has and suddenly her great food is lesser food. It happens in no time. There is no time to properly manage things, and the customers recognize that immediately. They come in less and less, and the hot restaurant six months ago is no longer hot. It's not an indictment, but if you don't carefully keep a watch on things, you can go from a really good cook to just O.K.

How have you avoided that fate?

I've not avoided it at all. There are a lot of angry people out there on the blogs masked by anonymity. They are the most vicious people in the world. I've developed a real thick skin, but every time I'm feeling real good, I go on those blogs.

To hear from more renowned chefs on what it takes to start a restaurant, flip through this slide show.

Perman is a staff writer for in New York.

Offline Pete-zza

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Re: Mario Batali Interview--10/28/08
« Reply #1 on: October 28, 2008, 11:34:35 AM »
There is also an online New York Times article at about Joe Bastianich, Mario's business partner, and how he changed his eating habits, lost weight, and now runs marathons. He still eats some pizza, as noted in the article, which follows:

October 28, 2008
Passion for Food Adjusts to Fit Passion for Running

GREENWICH, Conn. — Joe Bastianich’s three young children often ask him if he is going to win the New York City Marathon. As a first-time marathoner with modest goals, he will not be in contention. But if he completes 26.2 miles on Sunday, perhaps Bastianich should win something for defying the usual culinary doldrums of marathon training and instead finding his way to the finish line on a diet of rib-eyes, cured pig jowl and even Dom Pérignon.

Over the last 15 years, Bastianich has become a star restaurateur and winemaker. In partnership with his mother, the renowned chef Lidia Bastianich, and his business partner, the even more ubiquitous and ebullient Mario Batali, he owns 18 restaurants in New York, Los Angeles and Las Vegas. In June, he and Batali received the James Beard Foundation’s award for outstanding restaurateur.

For the last year, Bastianich has been training for the New York City Marathon, and on Sunday, he will join more than 39,000 other runners at the starting line. He may not shatter course records, to the disappointment of his children, but he has come a long way, and has done it without forsaking his relationship with fine foods.

Gone are the days of legendary feats of consumption with Batali, whose voracious appetite has been exhaustively documented. “We would eat from 2 to 5 in the morning, all night,” Bastianich said. It was not unusual to find him tucking into a 42-ounce steak for two at 3 a.m.

“He fell into the pressures of decadence,” Lidia Bastianich said. “It’s a potent current, a beautiful, enriching current.”

That current swept Joe Bastianich away and nearly broke him two years ago. Faced with a diagnosis of sleep apnea and the dread of having to sleep with a breathing mask for the rest of his life, Bastianich began running. Then, a year ago, he decided to run a marathon.

“It’s kind of like a midlife crisis kind of thing,” he said. “When you turn 40, you have to run the marathon, while all the parts still work properly.”

As Bastianich switched from marathon eating to marathon training, he has transformed the way he lives as well as his body, which is 45 pounds lighter now. He said that training for a marathon “is like a part-time job, literally 20 hours a week.” He tries to run in the morning near his home in Greenwich.

“Before, food and wine were the dominating things in my life,” said Bastianich, who decided to delay his 40th birthday party until after the marathon. “You do all that, and you never worried about the effects because the effects are inherent to the job. When the job becomes secondary, and the effects of your body become primary, that starts taking a second seat to how you respond to what you put in your body and you treat it. It’s kind of a flip-flop.”

But that does not mean Bastianich has reduced his diet to the often-bland marathon-training fare of mixed nuts, steamed chicken breast and broccoli.

“In the beginning, I started dieting, and realized I couldn’t,” he said. Instead, he moderated his consumption. He no longer eats late at night.

“If you have to get up at 7 a.m. and run a 20k, maybe you have a half a glass of wine instead of three, because three at Mile 4 — you start to feel every ounce of that wine,” he said.

Bastianich says that he can still eat well, as long as it does not detract from his performance. His running partner when he is in Italy, Luca Pascolini, fondly recalled a particularly memorable run.

“I still remember our amazing training run during a weekend in France, in the Champagne region along the Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay plants with the grapes almost ready for the harvest,” Pascolini said. “After the run, an unforgettable degustation of Champagne in the Dom Pérignon abbey.”

Before he started running, Bastianich would never eat breakfast, but now he must. A typical meal before a run is a rendition of breakfast cereal, Italian style. He boils arborio rice, adds a splash of soy milk and a drizzle of honey, collected from the honeybees in his backyard. The high-starch arborio rice lends a natural creaminess to the dish.

“It’s like risotto with honey,” Bastianich said. “That’s my fuel, my running fuel.”

That and a couple of espressos, and he is ready for his run.

Bastianich usually does not eat or drink anything during his training runs, and he twists his face at the thought of having to consume goopy energy gels during the race. He read a list of the gels’ indecipherable ingredients in quiet horror, and when pressed, he reluctantly endorsed a citrus-flavored variety as the best of the worst.

A typical meal after a run may include a pan-seared rib-eye steak with a porcini rub, garlicky broccoli rabe and mashed potatoes made with a touch of butter and soy milk.

At one of Bastianich’s restaurants recently, a chef whipped up a thin-crust pizza for a midafternoon snack. Topped with mozzarella, parmesan, an egg and translucent slices of guanciale (cured pig jowl, a sort of face bacon), the pie emerged bubbling hot two minutes later from an 800-degree wood-fired oven. As if cheese, egg and pork were not decadent enough, the pie was then given a smattering of black truffles. Bastianich poked the yolk, letting it ooze over the pie like a rich dipping sauce, before he savored a slice.

It was certainly not diet food, but Bastianich does not believe in diets.

As race day nears, he has one goal in mind: to finish the marathon in 3 hours 43 minutes.

Two weeks before race day, Bastianich went for a brisk 10-kilometer run. Upon returning home, he immediately went online to consult a marathon calculator. His wife, Deanna, plugged in his 10k time, 47:35, and the calculator generated an estimated marathon time of 3:43.

Bastianich’s newfound passion for running has delighted and surprised Deanna.

She said she was most pleased with his improved health and how he was in the best shape of his life.

“I am still getting used to seeing Joe in the spandex running pants,” she added. “That is a sight I thought I would never see.”

His exercise wardrobe may expand soon. His mother said Bastianich was talking about doing a triathlon next. “I told him, ‘You’re nuts!’ ”

Offline jeff v

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Re: Mario Batali Interview--10/28/08
« Reply #2 on: October 28, 2008, 04:25:12 PM »
Great artices-Thanks Pete.
Back to being a civilian pizza maker only.