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And probably won't start his own magazine, he tells us
Following up the launch of its 35th anniversary issue last March, Food & Wine decided to keep the press up by asking Mario Batali to guest edit their April issue (which hits stands tomorrow). And while the issue is filled with Batali's friends (ahem, Joe Bastianich), Jimmy Fallon is by far the best cameo we could ask for.
Food & Wine has an excellent roundup of the feature's photos on their website, which makes Batali and Fallon look positively chummy. "Whenever I'm on Late Night, I'm teaching Jimmy and he's actually enjoying it, not just going through the motions," Batali wrote to The Daily Meal in an email. "So it felt sort of natural and fun to do a photo shoot cooking school lesson with him... we were missing Higgins, I love those guys."
Naturally, other contributions include an interview with writer Jim Harrison and a list of Batali's favorite restaurants in Italy (we're adding them to our checklist as we speak), but we're also a fan of the feature asking Joe Bastianich to go against Food & Wine's Ray Isle to choose the best wines for $15. As for how Batali dealt with all the deadlines? "Food & Wine is really organized.... they made the whole experience so easy and fun," Batali wrote. "As expected there are lots of last-minute questions and changes they threw in close to deadline. It can get pretty intense those last few days."
And naturally, Batali is far too busy to launch his own magazine, what with The Chew and his multiple restaurants. "I'm friends with Bob Guccione and he's interested in starting a new magazine," Batali wrote. "After this experience, I realized I have no time left in my day so that might be something to table for now." Looks like David Chang's going to remain the biggest player in the chef-publishing world for now.
Controversial Things Everyone Just Ignores About Giada De Laurentiis
If you grew up during the Food Network boom of the '90s and 2000s, then you are probably familiar with one of the network's first breakout stars: Giada De Laurentiis. The expert on Italian homestyle cooking made simple launched her career with her first show, Everyday Italian, in April of 2003, and quickly became a household name.
Since then, she has gone on to host several more Food Network shows, in addition to being featured as a regular contributor on the Today Show, and making appearances on other Food Network hits like Iron Chef America and Beat Bobby Flay. She is also the author of nine cookbooks, has attached her name to three restaurants, and sells a product line featuring everything from cute biscotti jars to a tea towel printed with her recipe for Chicken Piccata.
However, turns out that no matter how much we've seen of her, there is more to Giada De Laurentiis than many of her fans know. In fact, the celebrity chef has found herself at the center of several scandals, but for some reason, everyone just ignores them. Here are just a few of the controversies that have surfaced (and then quickly faded away) over the course of the original Food Network star's career.
Chef Mario Batali To Bring His Talents To Vegas Uncork'd For The First Time
Chef Mario Batali has had a busy year. Not only does he tend to his 26 restaurants and two Eataly marketplaces, including the recently opened Eataly Chicago, the second U.S. location which opened this past winter, he has announced his first participation in Vegas Uncork'd. As with everything he does, his participation is not going to be small - Batali is participating in multiple events, including The Night Market: East Meets West at The Venetian during Vegas Uncork’d. This event will allow guests to experience an array of Asian-inspired dinner and drinks. Additionally, at The Night Market Batali will be one of two chef coaches mentoring culinary students from Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Las Vegas at the Chase Sapphire Preferred Grill Challenge. TravelsinTaste spoke with him about his newest Vegas restaurant B&B Burger & Beer which opened recently at the Venetian, his culinary inspirations, and his first time participation in Vegas Uncork'd.
TravelsinTaste: You have four restaurants in Las Vegas, do you have a favorite? If so, why?
Mario Batali: I love them all equally, but I’m really excited about our newest Vegas concept - B&B Burger and Beer. It’s truly unlike anything Joe Bastianich, my business partner, and I have ever done before. The burgers are outrageously good!
TravelsinTaste: What inspires you when you’re creating new dishes?
Batali: Seasonality always comes into play when I’m choosing my ingredients for new dishes. Simple, fresh and seasonal is the Italian way and you really don’t need to mess with food as much when you start with great ingredients. Food tastes so much better when it’s in season and fresh that I wanted to preserve those natural flavors. This has always been what we're about and still is after all these years.
TravelsinTaste: What’s your favorite meal to cook?
Batali: I love to cook breakfast for my kids – anything from huevos rancheros to Batali "McMuffins” with prosciutto, duck egg and fontina val d'aosta! I like to put a little Batali twist on dishes I make at home, and it’s a great place to experiment. The Batali “McMuffins” are delicious!
TravelsinTaste: This is your first year participating in Vegas Uncork’d, what are you most excited for?
Batali: I’m excited for it all, but I can’t wait for the Mario Batali Foundation Swing Session Celebrity Golf Classic at Cascata Golf Course in Boulder City on Saturday, May 10. I’m going to be out there with a bunch of other chefs from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. It’s really going to be a good time and a lot of fun.
TravelsinTaste: Are there any chefs in particular you’re looking forward to working with?
Batali: My own! I try to make it to Vegas as much as I can, and I do get out there several times a year, but it’s always a treat to spend time with my team out there. They’re truly the best.
TravelsinTaste: You’re also participating in the Chase Sapphire Preferred Grill Challenge where you’ll be paired with a student from Le Cordon Bleu here in Las Vegas. Are you nervous to go up against Buddy Valastro? Do you have a strategy in mind?
Batali: We’re mentoring these students so there’s really no strategy there – just being supportive. It will be a lot of fun, but they’re competing for $20,000, so how can there not be some nerves involved?!
TravelsinTaste: Besides your event, The Night Market: East Meets West, are there any other Vegas Uncork’d events you’re particularly looking forward to?
Batali: We’re having a beef tasting at Carnevino at the Palazzo on Saturday night after the golf tournament. I’m so thrilled to bring the weekend to a close with friends and foundation supporters. To me, there’s nothing better after spending a weekend cooking than to end it surrounded by friends.
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Bar Toma: a wine bar for everyone
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It's not easy to make an airtight argument that Tony Mantuano is the American prophet for Italian food the way Rick Bayless is for Mexican. For one thing, Mario Batali keeps interrupting. But locally, at least, there's no single chef more responsible for propagating fresh house-made pasta and real regional Italian food in this city than Mantuano. Yes, the rarefied nature of Levy Restaurants' flagship Spiaggia keeps a majority of folks away from the high end of it, but plenty of alumni from his kitchens have gone forth across the city spreading the light.
So it's a wonder Mantuano didn't open Bar Toma sooner. It was four years ago that he and his wife, Cathy, published the pan-European cookbook Wine Bar Food, and you'd have thought he'd dive into low-overhead small plates before the market was completely saturated. But here he is, upping the ante right off the Mag Mile, his crew deep-frying sweetbreads, stewing tripe, and potting chicken liver at all hours, right in the heart of the city's tourist district. There isn't a shred of pasta to be found anywhere on the menu, though it's difficult to point to anything else missing among the bar plates, salads, pizzas, espresso, pastries, gelati, and mozzarella bar.
The former Bistro 110 space has been remodeled to resemble a paneled and cinder-blocked basement rec room, with an angled copper bar that encourages fraternization. The idea is for guests to engage in light snacking on mostly shareable finger food, with a cocktail or glass of wine&mdashjust the sort of thing that might work in a congested shopping district full of stressed-out baggage handlers. But more than one month in, there's evidence this huge operation may have overstretched its abilities, with particular signs that the kitchen isn't quite yet comfortable executing the much-hyped Roman-style pizzas&mdashsome 16 of them&mdashthat are literally and figuratively at its heart. On a first trial, a relatively minimal Calabrese with bright, peppery tomato sauce and nubbins of Becker Lane sausage came out somewhat like the bready bakery sheet pizza it's meant to emulate, but succeeded more as a sop for other sauces and bites rather than on its own merits. A second, named for Mantuano himself, was a wet, sloppy mess. It was hard to divine the motives behind this pie, vaguely Neapolitan in effect (perhaps due to an underheated oven?), with a thick puffy lip of crust surrounding an unrisen field of dough so wet with mozzarella grease it necessitated an aerial rescue of the otherwise blameless strips of crispy guanciale and pleasantly bitter rapini.
In fact, there are inconsistencies all across this omnibus, beginning with the bread-crumb-topped crock of jiggly tripe, submerged in tomato sauce that obliterated the mint and orange that might have offset the offal's pungent puzzo di fogna, its inherent "smell of the sewer." "Roman-style" deep-fried cod fillets are rolled in a hippie gorp of poppy, sesame, sunflower, and pumpkin seeds that dominates the more delicate flavor and texture of the fish. Deep-fried sweetbread nuggets were wonderful what a pity their prosciutto wrappings were lost under the batter. Almost as problematic as the pizzas, however, is a pastry case crowded with dry, dead cornetti, and a broad selection of sorbetti and gelati that are icy, overaerated, and insufficiently dense.
None of this is to say that pitfalls can't be avoided&mdashacceptable meals can be assembled from the catalog. A small selection (don't overdo it) from the mozzarella bar doesn't make a bad introduction to notably inventive snacks such as the rock shrimp polpette, snappy balls of sweet crustacean and milk-soaked bread crumbs bathed in a bright, lemony tomato sauce topped with fried shallot. A generous cross section of crumbly cinnamon-scented seared mortadella has its richness cut by a dose of pickly house-made giardiniera. A jar of radicchio marmalade and goat cheese served with crostini toasted and glistening with olive oil is the sole recipe, incidentally, to make the jump from Wine Bar Food to the menu, even though the book is for sale at the host's stand. Simple sticks of roasted carrot, goat cheese, and crumbled almonds drizzled with balsamic and oil recall nothing so much as a carrot cake you could re-create on a diet. And say what you will about the pastries, two cigar-shaped filled-to-order cannolli, suitably not oversweetened, provide a modestly satisfying way to end things.
This is Mantuano's most accessible effort, even though some plates are priced to reflect its address&mdashthat trio of polpette costs $15, it's $17 for the sweetbreads, and $10 for a scrawny pair of lamb skewers. That's a lot of coin to surrender for a couple of snacks, especially if you plan to partake of the lightly fueled cocktails or something from the surprisingly limited selection of wines by the glass. Still, there's enough to attract the neighbors without scaring the tourists, and if the pizza and pastry situation were under control, we'd have something we could be proud show off to them.
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Mario Batali First to Guest Edit Food & Wine's April Issue - Recipes
A noted food journalist--one of my first mentors--got on the phone with me earlier this year to talk about my future. I told him that I wanted to get a regular job for a newspaper food section. What should I do? "Adam," he said, "you've got to be kidding. What you're doing right now is what most newspapers are desperate to do for themselves. Old media is on its way out. Your blog is the future!"
Since that conversation, the evidence to support his claim is overwhelming: food critics, food writers, magazine editors, seasoned journalists, cookbook authors, and even cab drivers are all getting into the game, and with fervor. Newspaper food sections are becoming less and less relevant as food blogs are becoming more and more popular. And to that I say: woohoo!
Woo-hoo because I love food blogs. I love reading them. I have about 30 food blogs bookmarked in my browser and many more that I click on throughout the day. Whereas traditional food media (The New York Times food section, for example) often feels fussy and strained, like a college roundtable discussion of "Beowulf," food blogs feel fresh and exciting--like hanging out with a new group of friends or an old group of friends, depending on how long you've been reading food blogs.
And yet, Mario Batali slammed food blogs last week on Eater. In his essay Why I Hate Food Bloggers, Mario wrote: "Many of the anonymous authors who vent on blogs rant their snarky vituperatives from behind the smoky curtain of the web. This allows them a peculiar and nasty vocabulary that seems to be taken as truth by virtue of the fact that it has been printed somewhere."
As many have noted in the comments of that post, what Mario seems to be ranting about isn't so much food blogs as restaurant industry blogs that give false reports about his comings and goings (notably, the very site where his rant appears). I find his rant funny because when I met him a few months ago he said the same thing to me: that he hates food bloggers and anonymous people posting nasty reviews all over the web. "It's the worst thing to happen to food journalism in a long time," he told me, apparently unaware that he was speaking to the enemy.
But am I the enemy? I'd like to think not. I'd like to think that food bloggers like me, who write about food and cooking and the occasional meal out, are allies of good, honest, hard-working chefs who have quality food to share and, perhaps, very few outlets in which to promote that food. David Chang, of Momofuku and Ssam Bar, is the darling of the food blog world (even Jason Kottke, not a food blogger, used his blog to rave) and I would guess that it's a big boon to Chang's business. Chang himself is friendly with food bloggers (check out his stuff on Eater) and his young age--he's only 29--suggests a familiarity and comfort level with the internet that, perhaps, Mario lacks.
What food blogs offer, ultimately, is the democratization of food criticism. In Arthur Miller's autobiography "Timebends," the famous playwright recalls the period in 1967 when the Herald Tribune vanished and The New York Times became the sole critical force in New York theater. Miller writes:
Monopoly in anything is not only an evil but an insidious one, and there was actually a moment, in 1967, soon after the Herald Tribune vanished, when Clifton Daniel, then the Times managing editor, convoked a meeting of some hundred authors, newspeople, producers, and actors in a midtown restaurant to discuss what might be done to mitigate the paper's awesome new power and its unhealthy, undemocratic potentialities. The Times, Daniel declared, did not create this monopoly and did not wish to hold the power it had been handed by history. After some wayward discussion, I suggested that since the nub of the issue was the danger of injustice in a single critic carrying all the immense prestige of the Times, perhaps the solution was to send two or three critics to write independent notices, maybe even on occasion asking an informed theatergoer to write his impressions of a show in a paragraph or two. Daniel thought for a moment and said that my idea was impossible, and when I asked him his reasons, he replied, "But who would be speaking for The New York Times?"
Miller's dream of an egalitarian system for criticism--a system that "would broaden the public's awareness of how fictional, rather than a matter of plain fact, all criticism really is, which is to say, how subjective"--is being realized today, at least in the food world, with food blogs. Because of our varying voices, our palpable passions, and--most importantly--our lack of editorial control, we are the distant drums in the distance growing closer and closer, our torches waving, our laptops poised for posting. Mario will disagree, but I think food blogs are the best thing to happen to food journalism in a long time. To quote a friend and mentor: we are the future.
After Batali Bust, Arguments for and Against Tipping Out
This week, a court ordered Mario Batali and a partner to pay $5.25 million to settle a class-action lawsuit brought by employees who accused the celebrity chef’s restaurants of systematically withholding tips to cover expenses. As the New York Times reported, the lawsuit said that restaurants owned by Batali and partner Joseph Bastianich deducted 4 to 5 percent of total wine sales nightly from the tip pool.
The judge in the case said employees were told that “the money was to cover expenses related to wine research and to cover broken glassware.” Huh? Isn’t wine markup is supposed to cover those costs?
What makes this story interesting, apart from the schadenfreude Batali’s critics must feel, is how it dredges up the controversy over waiters “tipping out” other service staff. After all, restaurants use tips to augment the salaries of bussers and bartenders all the time. How is deducting a percentage from the pool essentially different from creating an environment where tipping out, while technically voluntary, is mandatory in practice?
While enforced tip pooling is a violation of the law in some states, it’s still customary in plenty of establishments. That’s especially true in places where the law is murky (in California, for instance, there’s a lot of confusion over the legality of the practice). Where it does happen, it boils down to this: Do servers own their tips, or should they share them with the entire staff of a restaurant? Diners tip the waiter directly, it’s true, but are they really rewarding just one worker’s performance, or the broader experience of an entire meal? It’s a controversial subject—even here at CHOW.com, where the subject sparked a point-counterpoint debate.
POINT: Don’t tip out! by Joyce Slaton
I worked as a waiter through high school and college, in both diners and white-tablecloth joints. It was a terrific job for one reason alone: It paid a lot. And it paid a lot for one reason: tips.
I know that tipping out is a tradition, but it verges on fraud. You are taking money a diner left for a specific purpose, and distributing it without that diner’s knowledge or consent. I will concede that it’s unfair that waiters are tipped and other types of servers are not. At one restaurant where I worked, the bar staff delivered drinks to the tables and billed diners separately so they were tipped. I’m not sure diners liked having to pay an extra check, but at least it seemed fair to workers.
Bussers and kitchen staff are among the many, many types of service people who don’t get tips. It’s not fair, but it’s tradition. Believe me, I know they work hard, but so does my dry cleaner. So do grocery checkers, and the guy who runs the convenience store near my house. Should we just tip everybody we see in a retail business?
And anyway, customers are a huge pain in the ass. Waiters have to put up with customers’ irrational demands, their leering and insults, while line cooks are safely insulated in the kitchen. Being a server deserves bonus pay!
COUNTERPOINT: It’s about fairness! by John Birdsall
I cooked in restaurant and catering kitchens for 15 years, busting my ass for a wage not much above minimum. These were small, indie places, for the most part, where the owners worked in the kitchen or on the floor, and probably weren’t making much more than us line cooks. I always felt like we were part of a complex group endeavor: no divas, no slackers—everybody had to show up and get it done, every day.
And yet, the income inequality between cooks and waiters was stunning. In my best gig, the owners made it clear that servers were expected to tip out: bussers, line cooks, even the dishwasher. It was a way of enforcing teamwork, of snuffing out the sense that some workers were worth more than others. It was democracy—forced, to be sure, but if having to read Lord of the Flies in high school taught you anything, it should have been that, left to ourselves, we’d all be kneecapping each other in some desperate race to be Donald Trump.
When diners tip, they’re not just tipping the service. A well-paced meal has plenty to do with a waiter’s skill, but it can’t happen without a well-run kitchen. When line cooks are firing as they should, the server looks good. Same with bussers who clear and pour water, dishwashers who bust ass to make sure there isn’t a lag with clean glasses. Tipping out is an acknowledgment of the truth of food service, which is that, from top to bottom, a restaurant staff is a team. Paying some players Kobe wages while the rest get league minimum—that’s a crime. Until we adopt a European system, where gratuities are automatic and distributed to staff, I say waiters have an ethical obligation to tip out!
All the Unanswered Questions We Have About Mario Batali
Today, the New York Times reported that Batali has finally, officially divested from all his restaurants. This is the first time a chef has voluntarily severed financial ties to his restaurants following accusations of sexual misconduct. Restaurateur Thomas Carter divested from New York City restaurants Estela, Cafe Altro Paradiso, and Flora Bar following accusations that he had instilled a “culture of fear,” but the chefs involved in #MeToo have largely stepped away from operations while remaining financially linked to their businesses.
In a letter to B&B Hospitality employees, Batali’s former partner Joe Bastianich announced that he and his sister Tanya Bastianich Manuali had purchased all of Batali’s shares. He also announced that Bastianich Manuali would lead the operations of a new 16-restaurant group. Nancy Silverton and Lidia Bastianich will be partners in the yet-to-be-named group, and Del Posto chef Melissa Rodriguez and GM Jeffrey Katz are now partners at the former Batali restaurant.
Batali first announced that he was beginning the divestment process back in April 2018, but negotiations stalled. Until today, he continued to profit from his restaurants, and anyone who dined at Babbo, Lupa, Otto, or the other restaurants in the B&B Hospitality group indirectly supported the man who allegedly groped his employees and fans. Now that the Bastianich family has bought out all of Batali’s shares, there’s no longer a risk that diners are putting money in the pocket of Batali, but many questions remain unanswered.
We sent the following list of questions to reps for Joe Bastianich and Tanya Bastianich Manuali today. We let them know we would publish the questions, and below are the comments provided, with the rep’s responses to our questions noted in italics below.
Questions about the payout
The argument for divestment is an argument about money and power — and who holds it. An abusive chef who merely “steps away” continues to profit off a business built on the backs of the very people they harmed. Divestment — which would remove the bad actor out of the restaurant’s income flow — is a critical and necessary step towards remedying the cultural problems endemic to restaurants that have fostered an atmosphere of rampant sexism.
Part of the argument for divestment is also that it would cause economic injury to the person divesting — certainly an incomplete form of penance but one that at least delivers a meaningful consequence. With that in mind, we’d like to know how much exactly Batali profited by selling his shares. While women who experience harassment and sexism might find themselves forced out jobs and out of the industry, what happens to someone like Mario Batali — and how is his future earning power affected, if at all, by such a deal?
The rep confirmed that “the deal terms are confidential other than that Tanya and Joe acquired all of Mario’s interests in the restaurants.”
• What was the sum total paid out to Batali for his stake in the restaurant group?
• What were his profits on the sale?
• What is the expected sum total pay out for Batali for his stake in Eataly?
• Was Batali aggressive in the negotiations over his stakes in the restaurant group?
• Did Batali sign a noncompete?
Questions about Batali’s ongoing relationship to the group
When Batali “stepped away” from the restaurants in December 2018, he noted in a statement that “I want any place I am associated with to feel comfortable and safe for the people who work or dine there” — and statements from Bastianich and companies associated with Batali professed having similar goals. So how will a group of restaurant so indelibly shaped by Batali do that?
• Is Batali allowed on premises? What’s the policy around that?
Mario agreed over a year ago to not go into the restaurants and that agreement still holds.
• Does Batali retain the rights to his story and the story of the restaurant group? (Could he write a memoir detailing his time his time building these restaurants, for example)
• Did Batali sign an NDA regarding the terms of the deal?
• Did Batali sign an NDA regarding any other aspects of his relationship to the restaurant group?
Questions about how the restaurant group has or hasn’t changed
Batali wasn’t solely responsible for the cultural problems across B&B Hospitality. Longtime partner Joe Bastianich was also accused of contributing to an unhealthy working environment at B&B restaurants. According to staffers, he was instrumental in fostering a “boys’ club” culture that was permissive of sexual misconduct and supportive of a party-like atmosphere. In fact, one employee quoted in an Eater NY report considered Batali and Bastianich “two peas in a pod.”
Following the accusations against Batali, Bastianich remained at the head of the restaurant group. Although he claimed he never heard the accusations of misconduct, Eater NY reported that he did admit he had heard Batali say “inappropriate things” and that he “should have done more” to stop it. With Bastianich, and his family members, still in seats of power in the new restaurant group, are they doing more now to prevent bad behavior?
• What culture changes and safeguards to protect employees have been implemented?
We have had systematic policies and training about sexual harassment for over 10 years, including a detailed procedure for employees to report complaints to senior management. Every employee receives our employee handbook when they are hired and regularly thereafter, and the policy explains how employees can report complaints.
In addition, one year ago we made a significant improvement: if employees have claims they want to make against any corporate officers or owners, they may contact our outside investigatory firm, which has discretion to independently investigate complaints and report to outside counsel.
We have also made significant changes to our HR team and brought in an industry veteran in HR to supplement our team, train employees, and handle employee concerns. There have been a number of other changes that we are proud of and we continue to look for new and innovative ways to empower our team and support our company.
• What staffing changes have been made? Have there been new roles created or positions been eliminated? Have management structures changed to facilitate a healthier work environment?
Tanya is taking the lead on day-to-day operations, working closely with Joe and the rest of the operations team to support the restaurants behind the scenes. Tanya also joins Joe, Nancy, and Lidia overseeing corporate strategy, culture, talent development, finances, and other important issues.
As noted, in the last year and one half, we have also made significant changes to our HR team and brought in an industry veteran in HR to supplement our team, train employees, and handle employee concerns.
• Are there new policies around sexual misconduct and harassment? What are they?
• What hiring practices have changed?
We have always been an equal opportunity employer.
• What is being done to remedy Joe Bastianich’s past history of complicity with Batali’s behavior and role in allowing the B&B work environment to be toxic?
Joe has dedicated the last year to directly supervising the restaurants and taking care of our teams and guests and focusing on growth.
Here is the statement that Joe previously gave Eater on this topic. If you’re going to report this issue, please use this statement attributable to Joe:
“While I never saw or heard of Mario groping an employee, I heard him say inappropriate things to our employees. Though I criticized him for it from time to time, I should have done more. I neglected my responsibilities as I turned my attention away from the restaurants. People were hurt, and for this I am deeply sorry.”
• How is Joe Bastianich being held accountable as a leader going forward given the lessons learned with Batali?
• Were Nancy Silverton and Lidia Bastianich given bigger financial stakes in the company given their elevation to “partner” in the new company? What is Tanya Manuali Bastianich’s stake? What is the extent of their operational power? Do all four partners have equal stakes?
We are not getting into an individual owner’s stakes. However, this information is inaccurate.
Each restaurant is its own business, so the ownership of each varies somewhat from restaurant to restaurant. Tanya and Joe have shares in all of the restaurants in which Mario had interests. As noted above, Tanya is taking the day-to-day lead on operational matters.
Nancy and Lidia already have ownership interests in some of the restaurants, and substantial roles helping oversee all of the restaurants that were subject to the divestment.
We are thrilled that Melissa Rodriquez and Jeff Katz have become partners in Del Posto. Their incredible talent and creativity is why Del Posto is world-class. It’s the only four-star Italian restaurant in New York. We want Melissa and Jeff to share in the success of the restaurant that they drive and lead.
• What’s the breakdown on ownership in all the restaurants? Does the overall prior ownership structure remain similar to the prior arrangement? What is the relationship between the restaurants and the forthcoming restaurant group? Who else besides these partners have stakes in each restaurant in the group?
Agenda: 11/15 to 11/21
Nouveau est Arrivé!
The French Institute Alliance Française (FIAF) will present an evening celebrating the latest vintage of Beaujolais Nouveau on Thursday, November 16, 6:30 p.m., at Lighthouse International, 111 East 59th Street. Tickets are $50 for FIAF members and $40 for non-members (212.355.6160).
Chef Joe Bastianich tells his story in 'Restaurant Man'
Joe Bastianich has no illusions about the restaurant industry. It's hard work and a bit of compulsiveness. Starting with his family's restaurant, opened when he was just 3 years old, he learned the old-fashioned way.
No sugar coating or soft selling from Bastianich, who admits he can be brutally honest.
That straightforward approach has helped this "nice Italian boy from Queens" to partner with Mario Batali and build an empire of more than two dozen restaurants spanning the globe. His reach spans from New York to Los Angeles, Italy and Singapore and includes three vineyards, plus duties as a judge on TV's "MasterChef." His recent memoir, "Restaurant Man," was inspired by the death of his father.
Around the time of his 40th birthday, Bastianich made a few major life changes. Taking charge of his health, he started running and even contemplated giving up pasta. Last year, he competed in the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii. Now he doesn't go anywhere without his running shoes.
A former two-pack-a-day smoker, he is a spokesman for the BluePrint to Quit initiative, sponsored by GlaxoSmithKline.
He and his wife, Deanna, have three children, ages 11 to 15. Bastianich regularly answers questions from fans on Facebook and Twitter. For more information, go to joebastianich.com.
Q. You've always been a little more behind the scenes, the partner, but now you're on television, you've written a memoir and you're more high-profile. What appeals about sharing your story now?
A. I turned 40. My father died. He was the original restaurant man. It was cathartic and therapeutic for me. It worked for me cheaper than going to the $475 an hour therapist. I have an expensive analyst. They're probably not so expensive in Milwaukee.
Q. Your parents opened their first restaurant when you were 3, and you grew up in the business. How involved are your kids in the restaurant world?
A. They're involved in eating in restaurants.
Q. A few years ago, you started training for marathons and Ironman competitions. What pushes you?
A. Smoking many years ago was the first part of that journey. I was a heavy smoker until about 1999, smoking two packs a day. I kind of had a wake-up call with my daughter 14 years ago. In an industry where smoking is very prevalent - I think statistics are over 30% in the industry smoke, the personalities, late nights - aside from smoking being bad for you, it diminishes your main asset in the food and wine business: your sense of smell and taste. I found out I was able to taste much better, taste food better.
Q. So, how did that lead you to running marathons?
A. After I quit smoking, I gained weight. Training, I can make my own schedule. I train to run, bike, swim. I try to get it all in, but quitting smoking was the first and most important part of that journey. I did the Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii, last year.
Q. Have you seen a change in restaurants or clientele as smoking laws have changed?
A. The food and service industry, it hits home with me. They work hard, they're great, there's a certain compulsiveness and OCD that people in restaurants who do well have, and smoking is prevalent in our world. I think less people smoke, hopefully.
Q. Has it changed the way you drink wine?
A. The experience of tasting wine is essentially olfactory, and your smell comes alive after you stop smoking. It was like being able to taste like never before.
People can become better chefs, cooks, food professionals by quitting. I did it on my own with Nicorette patches and a lot of willpower. I threw down the gauntlet with my family and peers, avoiding the social and habitual trigger points. The social part is as hard to break as the nicotine habit.
Q. How long did it take you to quit?
A. Many tries. The final try, I made a 100-day commitment to the patch, and it worked.
Q. When people watch reality shows like "MasterChef," what are they missing?
A. When you see it on TV it seems kind of glitzy, this media-driven food world. I think sometimes people don't understand just how physical and hard this business is and how hard it is to dedicate your life to it. It can give you an incredible satisfaction. But it may seem more alluring from the outside when you're watching it
Q. Is there anything you won't eat?
A. I try to stay away from any kind of saturated fat. That means (I eat) a lot of vegetables, lean proteins. I eat a lot of pasta. People associate pasta with weight gain, but I think that in the proper proportions you can do it.
Q. As a restaurateur, how do you approach portion sizes?
A. We do think about it in our restaurants. America has been conditioned to think of pasta as the never-ending pasta bowl and Olive Garden. The Italian thing is pasta, sauce is condiment, dressed like you dress a salad. . . . I'm writing a book right now (featuring) 100 pasta dishes under 500 calories each.
Q. Explain the concept behind Eataly, which you're bringing to Chicago next year.
A. Eataly is the emporium of all things great in Italian shopping and eating, the best of what is local. Eat in our restaurants, enjoy a celebration of the culture of the Italian table. . . . It's slated to open in late 2013 a little too early to tell.
Q. Do you have a favorite food city?
A. New York is the best food city in the world.
Q. What's your overall message?
A. "Restaurant Man" is kind of the story, an unabridged story of what happened in my life, the good bad and ugly. Some people might glean some life lessons. It is honest, not written as a press release. I think if you read the book you can understand what has made me, the son of an immigrant: People who left everything behind and worked hard, a sense of frugality and respect of earning money and how that's changed to this very media-driven entertainment business.
Q. Do you consider yourself frugal?
A. Being frugal, conscious of making money, is not a negative thing. That sensibility of creating value and finding value and reinvesting in those customers is what separates great restaurants from the average ones.
About Kristine M. Kierzek
Kristine M. Kierzek is a Milwaukee-based freelance writer. She regularly writes Chef Chat and Fork. Spoon. Life. columns for Fresh.
The Disappearance of the White Tablecloth
If one were to rank the signifiers diners rely on when trying to judge the tone of a restaurant, you’d have to place the tablecloth near the top. If it’s white, and there’s one draped over every table, you know you’re in for an expensive—and possibly even good—meal. Or at least you would know that, if hip, youngish restaurateurs, proud of their thrifted oak tables, hadn’t collectively ditched the tablecloths altogether. Though it’d be hard to trace this practice to a particular establishment, think, for a second, about Husk , in Charleston. Widely considered one of the best restaurants in the country when it opened in 2010, and not particularly inexpensive by anyone’s standards. Can you imagine Sean Brock’s dining room without the wooden surfaces exposed? That’s a good thing: Along with the white tablecloths, we’ve begun to do away with all sorts of fine-dining signifiers. Finally, a good restaurant doesn’t have to look like anything at all.