THE SPECKTATOR

Mario Batali: 9 Questions, 0 About Cooking

Plus something he's never done in an interview before

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Kerry Speckman shares her unique perspective and observations on people, places and events on the First Coast and beyond. She's also the 2012 winner of Jacksonville Dancing With the Stars, so she's got that going for her.

Contact Kerry by email or follow her on Twitter.

If you want to know how old Chef Mario Batali is  or where he went to culinary school or where he gets his orange Crocs, no offense but Google it. Asking questions that are easy to find the answers to isn't really my thing.

Fortunately, when I told Batali at a Publix Apron's Cooking School event that most of my questions weren't about cooking, he said, "Good. My specialty."

1. How would do you describe yourself in three words? 
[Pause] That’s a good question. [Long pause] Fast, delicious, real

2. What is something that people would be surprised to learn about you? 
I like quiet ... sometimes. As much as I appreciate the cacophony of my life and how busy and intense it is, I like to sit down quietly for 15 or 20 minutes, two or three times a day and try to empty everything. At the bottom of the sea, there are as many interesting things to see as there are at the top of the sea. Everybody likes to see the top of the sea. I like to see if I can find the bottom every once and a while.

3. How many hours do you sleep a night?
Between four and five and a half. I don’t even have an alarm clock. I wake up every day at 5:30.

4. What are your pet peeves?
In the kitchen, it’s people who pretend lazy is rustic. And in life, when someone will ask a question, and they really don’t care what the answer is. They just want to ask the next question. And I do that all the time. It's like the answer seems less significant than me asking the question ... which is pathetic. [Laughs] My pet peeve about myself is not listening. I need to listen more.

5. What's your favorite band?
This week? Disappears. They're really good. 

6. What actor would play you in a film of your life? 
Oliver Platt

7. What is your favorite restaurant that’s not yours?
In the world? Sin Huat in Singapore. But I really like Pearl Oyster Bar on Cornelius Street in Manhattan. And I really like Palm Valley Fish Camp right here in town. I don’t care about luxury ingredients so much. I want something that says I can only get it here, this kind of grouper they have, this kind of oyster or whatever. They put it together in a way that is so delightful. I don’t really like fancy restaurants; I like casual restaurants. I like knowing the waiters' and waitresses' names, and I like them know my name. So by the end of the experience, it’s kind of like we’re having a party. I love that.

8. What is your most hated food? 
I don’t hate food, but I have yet to find the right way to enjoy a durian. A durian looks like a spiky pineapple. It's found in Southeast Asia, and it smells like a diaper, a full diaper that sat in a gas station bathroom throughout most of the summer. That is to say a mature, super-intensified fragrance.

9. Do have any hidden talents that fans might not know about?
I can juggle. [At this point, Batali gets up from the table, walks over to the cooking set, picks up three garlic clusters and proceeds to juggle. Something he says he's never done in an interview before.]

CLICK HERE TO WATCH THE VIDEO ON YOU TUBE SINCE I AM TOO INCOMPETENT TO POST IT HERE.

I also asked folks—via social media—to post their questions for Batali. Here's a taste...

@dsharden: How important is the pasta water to the dish after pasta is cooked?
In making the sauce/condiment/noodle ratio perfect, it is essential. It could be that you don't need very much, but you want to keep it around in case you do. If you're going to make a mistake in terms of volume of sauce, you should have much less than you imagine and extend it with a little bit of pasta water because a lot of people oversauce their stuff. Americans think the sauce is the event and that noodle is some kind of little vehicle. But the Italians think of the noodle as the event, and they look at the sauce just like the way we look at mustard on a hot dog.

@JillianG13: What's your current relationship with Chef Anne [Burrell] like these days?
She worked with me on Iron Chef and is a dear old friend, It’s great. We have a good time together. But she’s very, very busy making many, many TV shows now, so it’s hard for me to find a lot of time. When she's in town, we always get together.

@billyspeckman:Do you feel like you got screwed in the Hank Haney project?
 
You mean because I didn’t win? [Laughs] Here’s the deal: I was probably the better golfer at the end of the weekend. But there are competitions, if you’re going to win, you have to get the closest to the pin or the this and the that, so I didn’t get screwed at all. I think I learned as much if not more than anyone else except for Adam Levine.

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