Batali Contest Winner Announced

Find out who won the über-chef's crown.

This winter we posed the following question to our readers  for the chance to win the crown Batali wore for this story (pictured left):

  "We appointed Batali the King of La Cucina. What nickname would you bestow upon this legendary chef?"

 Well, the results are in and the winning nickname, submitted by Ashely Broshious, is:

 Good King Mario Batalisauce the Forkith


Honorable Mentions Include:

Baron de Bon Appetito, from Lynne McComas

Padre di Buonoa Mangia, from Jane M. Saladino

Thanks to all who participated. We enjoyed reading all the submissions. Other contest stories will be posted in the coming months.

Über-Chef Mario Batali, replete with ubiquitous orange clogs, slicked back ponytail and mischievous smirk, is every bit as knowledgeable and personable as one would imagine after years of public exposure through his various television shows, cookbooks and guest appearances. Spanning coast to coast, his 12 iconic restaurants include six in New York City, two in Los Angeles, three in Las Vegas and one in Westchester County, New York. Batali’s vast wealth of knowledge on all things food related (especially when it comes to Italy), along with his focus on Italian food and wine via his restaurants, easily earn him the king of la cucina. Wine Enthusiast was thrilled to recently talk with the chef about his influences, perceptions and aspirations for the future.

Wine Enthusiast: How do you think you’ve influenced the American perception of Italian food?
Mario Batali: If there is one thing I hope I’ve done, it is that I’ve allowed or I’ve instructed people to think, and know that Italian food isn’t spaghetti and lasagna. I hope what they now understand, and not just because of me, is that not only is there regional but there is micro-regional cooking all over the world, let alone in Italy.

WE: What do you think is the difference between Italian and Italian-American cooking?
MB: [Italian-American cooking] has very little often to do with real Italian cooking but its heart and soul was born in Italy. It came about because a second generation Italian cook couldn’t find mascarpone or couldn’t find mozzarella, so they used sour cream and Philadelphia cream cheese. Those aren’t bad things, it just means that they’re not ‘traditional’ dishes; they’re traditional to Youngstown, Ohio or Oklahoma City, and that in itself is a great thing. I don’t think either one is better than the other, I just think one is authentic to Italy and one is authentic to people.

WE: Do you think you tend to execute more traditional dishes?
MB: My ideology is that as in Italy, a person in the Veneto would never use any ingredient from Puglia, and someone from Piemonte would never use anything from Tuscany; I use my regional palate. I like to use the ingredients of the Hudson Valley and the mid-Atlantic coastline, so I don’t know if I’m making authentic dishes; I’m making dishes that are what Italians would make where I live.

WE: So the spirit is the same.
MB: Exactly.

WE: I’ve heard you comment on being a chef versus being a cook and the lack of understanding some people might have in differentiating the two. Care to comment on that any further?
MB: I love it when I meet someone at a book signing or at a public event and I say ‘Hey, nice to see you, how’s it going?’ ‘Could you sign this book to Chef Bill?’ ‘Who’s that?’ ‘That’s my husband.’ ‘Is he a Chef?’ ‘Oh yes.’ ‘Where does he work?’ ‘Oh, he’s a banker.’ [Laughs] But he’s a chef at their house, and that is cool, and they think he’s a chef so he is a chef. My definition of a chef is someone who gets paid to work their balls off 90 hours a week, that’s it. That said, it could be a banker who happens to hang around a couple of days on the weekends making delicious food for their family, so whatever. I used to take umbrage; I no longer take umbrage. 

WE: How do you balance your time and maintain the quality of the food at your restaurants when you can’t be there at all times?
MB: I have 2000 employees this week, 1900 of which are geniuses, and 100 of which will be geniuses. I rest my case.

WE: What input do you have when generating the wine list for your restaurants?
MB: Very little. Joe Bastianich [Batali’s business partner] writes most of the wine lists in conjunction with the wine director. We allow each of the wine directors to kind of have their take on it. Italian wine more so than any other kind of wine is built to be consumed with food; there’s a couple wines of meditation, a couple wines of contemplation, but most of the Italian wines are juicy, delicious, representative of the geo-specific place that they’re from and about the fruit that goes with the deliciousness.

WE: What is your personal pairing philosophy?
MB: If it grows together, it goes together.

WE: How has the past year and economical changes we’ve seen influenced your business strategies and goals for the future? For instance, you recently closed the “Enoteca” section of Del Posto…
MB: Yeah, which is counter-intuitive though, if you think about it. I think that people assess a restaurant at the end of the month when they look at their credit card bill. They say, whether it was $70 at Otto or $600 for four at Del Posto, they look at it and they think to themselves ‘Do I remember that night?’ And then they say, ‘Yeah, I do remember that night.’ And, ‘Was it worth that number? Yes, it was, I’ll go back.’ So I think value is where people really make their judgments at any price point. We haven’t changed our business strategy at all. What we’ve seen is people are spending less on high-end wine but they’re still spending the same on food.

WE: You’ve written eight cookbooks with another on the way [Molto Gusto: Easy Italian Cooking, currently scheduled for release on April 6th, 2010 by ECCO]; tell us about it.
MB: The new cookbook is about our misrepresentation and over-emphasis on protein as a main part of our daily experience. The resources that we have contributed or dedicated to the production of this incredible amount of protein are as relevant in the world of global warming as our cars—in fact, even more. Cows produce more methane than we produce in emissions from our autos everyday in America. That alone isn’t compelling enough; what you really need to do is understand that leafy greens, vegetables and legumes should make up 75 to 80% of your diet and protein in a small level should be a part of it as a flavoring agent or as a small tasty
component to a particular meal. That said, it is the Otto cookbook.



"We appointed Batali the King of La Cucina. What nickname would you bestow upon him?"

Well, the results are in and the winning Batali nickname is:

Good King Mario Batalisauce the Forkith, submitted by Ashley Broshious.

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