Mario Batali Talks

This is a chef I enjoy watching on Iron Chef America and in this interview he talks all things Italian. I thought it was a very nice read in terms of our class.

Mario Batali has been busy lately.

In recent weeks he opened his Italian food emporium Eataly in Manhattan and launched the inaugural issue of his new promotional magazine Viaggio. He’s also working on a new online cookbook project, The Celebrity Pasta Lovers Cookbook, created with actress Julianne Moore and sponsored by Barilla pasta (through it’s Share the Table project, featuring pasta recipes from film and television stars like Jimmy Fallon and Meryl Streep).

So we felt very lucky (and knew we had to talk fast) when Batali took the time to sit down with Slashfood in New York City to chat about pasta, pizza and all things Italian.

Can you talk to us about the cookbook project, and how you got involved?
MB: Barilla approached me several years ago about this idea of bringing people together for dinner. The family unit is really strong if they have a constant communication level on a daily basis, and clearly the easiest way to make that happen is to surround them with delicious food. A bunch of celebs including a lot of my friends – Mariska [Hargitay], Jimmy Fallon, [Andy] Roddick, Julianne [Moore], Meryl Streep – submitted an idea or a recipe and I kind of tweaked it to make it an easy to follow recipe and they’re all in here. Many of the recipes you can make in less time than it takes to boil the spaghetti itself.

The way you get it is you go to SharetheTable.com. You download it for free. Every time someone downloads it, they donate $1 to Meals on Wheels, which is a big thing.

You recently opened the Eataly Italian market, a huge undertaking.
MB: The idea is that there’s a giant retail store inside of which are four or five — I say four or five because the fifth one isn’t open, but the brewery will open in November. There are four restaurants inside that are fundamentally a place to eat but are also a significant part of the retail support.

Eataly, strangely enough, has got a big portion of Barilla pasta. They’re the only brand you’ll recognize when you go in there because all the rest are Italian and artisanal.

We’d like you to come taste something and then know that you can go home and make it. Everything we cook in the restaurant is available in the store. And the idea is we want to remove the obstacles or impediments to people cooking it home, because you’ll feel better if you cook at home, and you’ll enjoy it. If you enjoy that kind of activity, we have everything you need in one stop.

How has it been received by the public?
MB:
Well, there have been 10,000 people in that store every day for a week. There was a velvet rope, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday because the throngs were that intense.

I think New Yorkers above all love great food. They’re enamored with Italian culture and they’re also slightly fascinated by the partnership of me, Joe Bastianich and his mom Lydia. So, they come from many walks of life. They want to see what we were doing, whether we were just blowing smoke up someone’s ass or not.

There have been people that have given me a hard time about the line, about the crowd. But not too many people have given me a hard time about the food or the experience. It’s pretty unique.

What are some of your favorite sections of the store, favorite foods or products?
MB: I’m a big fan of the rosticieria, we do spit roasted chickens and every day we do two specials that can be had as a panini in the daytime or as a take-home meal in the late afternoon. I’m a big fan of Dave Pasternack, and he’s serving up the crudo there, which to me is one of the greatest ways to eat.

The pizza guys are from Naples. It’s a company called Rosa Pomodoro that’s working with us. They’re truly Neopolitain dudes. They showed up 4 hours before we opened and said “How many pizzas are you going to need at what time?” I said, “I need 400 pizzas at 7 o’clock.” He said, “Okay.” These guys don’t even think twice. They just make pizza.

If you taste it it’s simple, perfect Neopolitain pizza. It is a light, simple Neopolitain pizza that’s very – not super crispy, crisp enough. Not super thin, but thin enough. Not over-dressed, but dressed lightly, and I love it.

Which kind is your favorite?
MB: The Napoli, which is the marinara. It’s got tomato sauce, a little garlic, a little oregano and some basil. I put a little bit of hot chili on it. The trick to a Nepolitain pizza is that even though you’re hungry, let it sit for two minutes on the table before you try to eat it, because then it sets. If not, it’s so hot you pick it up and the topping slides off. It’s not good for anybody. It’s soup on a wet crustino basically.

So what’s the deal with the new magazine?
MB: Viaggio is something we put together as an answer to the electronic media age. Every restaurant has a web site. All the web sites are very beautifully designed but they’re very much two dimensional and you can’t touch them. We decided that in support of Del Posto we wanted to do something against the stream and give people something to hold on to. It’s got a nice paper stock but it doesn’t feel so precious. It’s written and photographed by the staff in our restaurants. It gives them a way to participate in our promotion and to share in the glory when their byline is written right next to the article or the product.

It celebrates Italian culture and American products – everything that we do – in a way that shouldn’t be exotic, fantasy travel, but more “this is how we do it.” It’s a very interesting, very micro-managed look about what we think of Italian culture in America.

It’s interesting that you’re putting out a magazine during a time when a lot of magazines are folding.
MB: I didn’t make up the idea. Michael White‘s group does one that I find very beautiful. Danny Meyer has a very interesting, information-laden newsletter that they put out every month from Union Square restaurant. I think that it’s not as revolutionary or as silly as it seems. It’s just a very interesting way to give my team something to work on that’s outside of their normal work. And gives people something to hold on to and take home. It’s really a promotional device that happens to be a magazine. Because it’s free at the restaurants it’s not really required to make money like a magazine.

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