Mario Batali, with his orange Crocs and even more colorful language, can be a polarizing figure. Love him or loathe him, he is one of the city’s — and, therefore, the country’s — greatest chefs. His new cookbook, Molto Batali: Simple Family Dinners From My Home to Yours, out today, features seasonal recipes for all 12 months of the year. As part of the launch, he has pledged to match $100,000 in donations to his Mario Batali Foundation.
What was the idea behind this new cookbook?
It’s about family meals. It’s the first book that I’ve ever tied to my foundation. The Mario Batali Foundation was created to battle the obstacles children face in reaching their greatness on three fronts: hunger relief, research into children’s diseases, and literacy. If you buy this book, there’s a little sticker on it that says, if you’re so inclined, you can donate to the foundation and I’ll match it up to $100,000. It’s a nice way to be part of the game.
Do you consider yourself a big believer in family meals?
Of course. And that’s why it’s different than all of my other books. The format in the recipes is eight to 12 people, not two. You can easily cut it down to make it for four. In each chapter, you have one giant centerpiece, a main course — meat, generally, a bird, fish twice — then, there are three pastas, one soup, five vegetable dishes, and a dessert. You could make it all at once, or you might just make the pasta and one of the side dishes. It’s really about entertaining at home. And that is the foundation of the Foundation itself. It’s all about family, children, support, confidence … and deliciousness.
Do you see your role as a food icon changing, especially with your foundation?
A lot of chefs are going to the White House, getting involved in policy. I’m not as into policy. I’m mad at the government, actually. I prefer to help people in my own way.
Would you say you prefer the TV-chef life to the restaurant-chef life?
Do I miss a dirty station I have to clean up when I’m really tired? I don’t miss that part. But one of the greatest parts — the reason I got into the cooking business even when I was in college — is when you have a task ahead of you and even if you don’t love everyone in the room, you come together and you make dinner. You hammer it, you nail it, you do it just right. … at the end of the day, that kind of satisfaction, where you just sit back and drink a beer and say fuck yeah. That I miss. Then on Friday, you get a paycheck? I miss getting a paycheck. Now I get distributions. Distributions are not like “woo-hoo!” It’s more like, “Yeah, whatever, I know it’s in there somewhere.”
Some people were surprised about you being cast in The Chew because it’s unscripted and, well, you have a bit of a potty mouth. Do you edit yourself?
I know how to talk PG. I can talk PG all day. I’m not worried. There’s a lot of haters out there that were soap-opera fans. The demise of the soap opera is a big business. It’s not my business, but it didn’t go the way they wanted and they’re not happy with me. I’m perceived as having chopped off Erica Kane’s head and kicking her body around the block. The Chew is a new kind of programming. I find it fascinating how big networks function. I asked, “Can I get a list of all the employees on this show so I can memorize their names?” and they emailed me a document with 290 names. I’m like, “290 NAMES?! Where are they? What are they doing?” They’re everywhere. It’s an amazing thing. I’m having a blast.
What’s your favorite recipe in Molto Batali?
I like them all. I’ve really never put any soups in and there’s a turkey meatball soup with escarole that I’m a really big fan of. I like all the pastas. I like the simpler ones, but I think maybe my favorite is cooking pasta in red wine and then serving it with a sausage ragu. It turns this crazy kind of purple and picks up all of the great qualities of wine without having any of that high acid. … It’s really good.
What’s left on your bucket list that you haven’t yet achieved?
Self-propelled flight would be one. I would be the guy to buy the first jet pack. Like, a real one, not like a toy one that puts you up 15 feet. As I get older, what I realize I really enjoy doing is helping people become what they can. Not just saying, “Oh, I like to help the poor, I like to help the hungry, I like to help the diseased.” I just really enjoy watching my children [and other people] grow and participating in their coming into themselves. So, I imagine that’s what I’ll probably eventually morph into.
Anything exciting happening at any of your restaurants right now?
Well, you know me: I’m a hooker for white truffles and Barolo. White truffles are here this week and it’s pretty damn exciting. And when you have that first truffle or two, although it’s a super-luxury item, it really reminds you the beauty of seasonality. These things come and you know they’re going to go and enjoying them … that’s a real Italian way to live.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of our conversation with Mario Batali tomorrow.