Mario Batali is a world renowned chef, restauranteur and author, who received his first formal culinary training at Le Cordon Bleu in London. He did not last long however, as he shortly left to instead become an apprentice with the famous chef marco Pierre White. Mario Batali would go on to team up with Joe Bastianich and open his first restaurant, Babbo Ristorante e Enoteca. These days, Mario Batali is recognised as one of the world’s premier chefs, with a culinary and restaurant empire that spans the whole globe, with restaurants in New York, Los Angeles, Singapore and Hong Kong. This has been recognised in numerous ways, including being named ‘Man of the Year’ in the chef category by GQ Magazine, as winning the James Beard Foundations’ ‘Best Chef: New York City’ and ‘Outstanding Chef of the Year’ awards. Off the back of such wide culinary success, Mario Batali made the natural progression into cookbooks, and is now the author of eleven cookbooks, including Molto Italiano: 327 Simple Italian Recipes which won a James Beard award. Mario Batali has also worked to achieve his philanthropic goals, by founding the Mario Batali Foundation in 2008, which has a mission of feeding, protecting, education and empowering children. He has achieve a remarkable level of success, and I was so eager to discover which books had inspired Mario to achieve so much. Please enjoy my interview with Mario Batali…
When someone asks you ‘what do you do for a living?’ – How do you respond?
I’m a cook! I’m a chef, author, philanthropist, restaurateur and co-host of ABC’s The Chew. I love what I do so much that it never feels like work.
What’s your earliest memory of reading?
My mom read to me and enthused all of the kids to read. I read every book on the school reading list in 3rd and 4th grade. Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White probably struck me as my first real book memory.
If you could encourage young people to read one book in particular, what would it be?
What is the worst job you’ve ever had?
I can think of some terrible bosses, but the jobs themselves were what I wanted to be doing at the time. Every job has taught me significant lessons, even if it’s what not to do as a leader in the kitchen.
Do you read as much as you’d like to?
I’d always like to read more, but I do make time every day to read (whether it’s a news article in the morning or a chapter between filmings at The Chew, which is rare these days). My ideal time to dive into a book is on a plane or during the summer when I’m on the beach in Michigan.
32 Yolks by Eric Ripert was brilliant and will strike a chord in anyone wanting to pursue this life. Also, Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell captures the difficulty of restaurant work with hilarious precision. Any aspiring chef should identify their culinary mentor, cook from his or her cookbooks, follow the recipes precisely and discover what they like (or dislike) about certain dishes. I also think it’s crucial for everyone to have a fiction novel on hand so they can enter a world that’s not their own, even if for just a little while.
Is there a book that you’ve read more than once? What is it and why did you revisit it?
Any of Jim Harrison’s books. Not only was he a dear friend of mine, but I get so much pleasure in reading his books for a second and third time. The depth Jim gives his characters and storylines is unparalleled to any fiction book I’ve ever read. I also reread Don Quixote by Miguel De Cervantes every 3 or 4 years.
What book have you recommended the most to friends and family?
What’s your favourite genre of book?
I like all books, but I have a soft spot for smart fiction and magical realism.
What do you think a world without books would be like?
A sad, dark place lacking creativity and intelligence. I would never want to live in it.
Is there an author whose writing you’re such a fan of, that you’ll read everything they release?
Do I sound a bit lovesick on Jim Harrison? We had a spectacular celebration of his life this past October in Montana, so I had a nice opportunity to reflect on his work and the ways certain books of his influenced my life. I feel the same about Bret Easton Ellis, Salman Rushdie and Dave Eggers.
Do you think digital books will ever completely replace real books?
I sure hope not. My kids’ kids might think differently one day, but digital books will never compare to flipping crisp paper pages in a real book.
What is the book that you feel has had the single biggest impact on your life?
The book that had the biggest impact is One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
Are there any books you haven’t mentioned that you feel would make your reading list?
What books or subject matter do you plan on reading in the next year?
Classic American novels or light-hearted satires. I think we all need more laughter in our lives right now.
If you’d like to learn more about Mario Batali, you can find him on his website, Facebook and Twitter.
Photo Credit: Ken Goodman