Although it’s not physically possible to be in two places at once, Mario Batali will have you checking your old physics textbook just to be sure. Chef and restaurateur may be the most prominent items on his impressive résumé, but add to that cookbook author, founder of the children’s charity the Mario Batali Foundation, co-founder of the 50,000-square-foot Eataly in New York City, and, most recently, co-host of the daily talk show, The Chew.
'Tis the holidays...Check out more new cookbooks for 2011.
Amid this whirlwind of activity, Batali took some time to answer a few questions for us about his latest cookbook, Molto Batali.
Your new cookbook, Molto Batali, is divided into 12 sections, using seasonal ingredients for each month of the year. What are the advantages of eating seasonally in an age where people can essentially get anything they want at any time of the year?
Too many to count! Eating seasonally is a big way to save money. It's good to recognize when things are freshest and subsequently more nutritious, and it is essential to realize how eating locally and seasonally is sustainable and supports working farmers in the region you live in. It's also about teaching our kids and our families about food and where things come from. Every time we buy things that we eat we are effectively voting for a strategy and a process in the food world. Understanding the importance of these decisions can bring us together and can make us feel part of a better and more cohesive community.
Molto Batali also focuses on cooking for groups of 8-12 people. What is it about Italian food that lends itself so well to celebrations with family and friends?
Meals made and eaten together with a family group are always festive in any culture. Italian food is recognizable, simple to make and generally captures even the pickiest of eaters at the table with a huge payoff in fun and deliciousness. There are many options in Molto Batali to make even a regular weekday supper feel like a celebration. That said, the book is also great to cut recipes in half or even quartered if you're just cooking for a small group.
In your opinion, what are some of the factors that prevent a pretty good cookbook from being a great cookbook?
Great cookbooks are accessible to any and all cooks. Pretty good cookbooks are usually too ambitious or technique-driven and exclude groups of cooks.
Do you think the popularity of cooking shows on TV has created more sophisticated diners? Has that raised the bar for chefs?
Television cooking has brought an awareness of the vast world of food and cooking into homes for five decades and has significantly raised the bar for both cooks and chefs on many levels. A well-informed customer is always an ally to chefs making good food and the buzz that a well-informed customer can help create is almost always good for the chef. Americans are very savvy consumers and will always search for the genuine, the delicious and the fairly priced options and reward them with return visits at every price point.
Eataly, your Italian wonderland, has been open in NYC for just over a year now. Was the first year everything you hoped it would be?
Eataly opened with a big bang and has exceeded my expectations by far. We continue to refine it and improve the experience every day.
In 2009 you started the Mario Batali Foundation to help children reach their full potential, and you say in the introduction to Molto Batali that the book is the first step in a new philanthropic move forward for you. What was the inspiration for starting the MBF, and can you share any future plans for furthering your philanthropic goals?
I started the foundation because I realized that rather than focusing my time, energy and monies toward a bunch of different charities, I wanted to hone in and support the causes that I really care about: children's disease research, children's literacy guarantee and hunger relief.
This book mirrors that same passion for food and family, my belief in the importance of eating together, and the joy that comes when we share lovingly made meals. With this in mind, people can go to mariobatalifoundation.org and donate to MBF and support those causes, too. The cool part? The first $100,000 in paid donations made to the Foundation after Nov. 1, will be matched by me personally. My partners at Aperol will also match up to $50,000 in paid donations between Nov. 1 and Feb. 1, 2012.
Lastly, what is your secret to being able to manage so many different projects (restaurants, stores, cookbooks, charitable work, etc.) simultaneously?
I have assembled a spectacular team of thoughtful, focused and creative people, and I do not seem to need much sleep.