Interview: Chef Mario Batali
In addition to his culinary expertise, passion for food and contagious joie de vivre, chef Mario Batali is famous for grace under pressure. Take his time on Iron Chef America. Even as the clock was ticking, and the other contenders were running frantically around “kitchen stadium,” yelling back and forth, Mario would often share a background story about his dish or whip up some cocktails for the judges. Now, Mario remains the consummate multitasker, standing at the helm of 26 restaurants, co-hosting the popular daytime talk show The Chew, and bringing the Italian gourmet foods market, Eataly, to North America. He has also found the time to share even more inspiring recipes in his new cookbook: America Farm to Table (2014 Grand Central Publishing).
Recently, H&H got a chance to chat with the iconic chef about his thoughts on Thanksgiving, his latest ventures and what he has planned for his appearance at Toronto’s upcoming Delicious Food Show.
House & Home: When it comes to Thanksgiving dinner are you a traditionalist, or do you enjoy experimentation?
Mario Batali: Each year I choose a regional flavour theme, last year it was Alsace, this year it is New Mexico. The main categories are always on the table; turkey, gravy, yams, Brussels sprouts, braised greens and stuffing/dressing, but the palate of spices and the odd departure from classics change with the theme. This year we will have sweet potato tamales and the gravy will have hatch chilies and chorizo.
H&H: In your mind, it’s not truly Thanksgiving dinner without…
MB: I am the biggest fan of stuffing and gravy! And the turkey, of course, I usually take the bones out and prepare it almost like a porchetta and the family loves it. Even our dog, Willie, gets to try a bite.
H&H: What type of wine would you recommend to accompany a Thanksgiving meal?
MB: I’m big on soft and mature Sangiovese like a Chianti Classico, but I love a crisp fall hard cider at Thanksgiving as well.
H&H: Thanksgiving and other holiday dinners can be such a production, and stressful for many home cooks. Do you have any tips to make the process simpler?
MB: Cook ahead. Not everything needs to be made fresh that day. There are plenty of dishes that freeze well and taste just as good when they are re-heated. Simplification is the name of the game. Also, don’t be afraid to let other folks pitch in. If your guests offer to bring dessert, let them!
H&H: On The Chew, viewers have seen you cook with a variety of guests from Susan Sarandon to Jon Hamm. Which guest surprised you the most with their cooking skills?
MB: 2 Chainz! I didn’t think he’d know his way around a kitchen but he surprised me. It was a great time and my kids think I am a lot cooler now.
H&H: Your tenth cookbook is slated to come out in October, America Farm to Table: Simple, Delicious Recipes Celebrating Local Farmers. Why did you decide to pay homage to farmers?
MB: I believe farmers are the next rock stars. Chefs get the accolades but we wouldn’t be able to cook without a delicious harvest from our local farmers. But more importantly, supporting local farming may be the solution to many of our 21st century problems in both nutrition and economic development. It’s also the key to great cooking at home.
H&H: What cookbook are you loving right now?
MB: I love Buvette and Jody Williams’ book, Buvette: The Pleasure of Good Food, is brilliant and beautiful.
H&H: Can you tell us a little bit about your own kitchen?
MB: I love my home kitchen. We always gather around the large centre island, which is where my kids do their homework, where we eat most of our meals, and where we make fresh pasta and pizza. It’s quite versatile. Functionality is key in home kitchens. You’re going to enjoy cooking at home more if you know you can reach an arm’s length to the knives, take a few steps to the olive oil, etc. A messy, disorganized kitchen makes for less fun when preparing meals.
H&H: Foodies and fans from across Canada will be coming to Toronto to attend The Delicious Food Show between October 17 and 19. As headlining chef on the opening day of the show, what do you have planned?
MB: We’ve got a full day planned, including book signings and a demo, where I’ll be making some seasonal dishes from my new book. I’ve never been to The Delicious Food Show – I’m excited to hang with Toronto!
H&H: What’s up next for you?
MB: We’re looking at new locations for Eataly, and we just announced that we’re taking over the food and beverage program at the legendary Maritime Hotel in NYC. It’s an exciting time coming up!