you make the right choices from the start it is a lot easier in the kitchen.
It is a wonder that famed chef Mario Batali has time to vacation or even relax for that matter. Despite owning five restaurants in New York City, with a sixth scheduled to open soon, and a wine shop, hosting two shows on the Food Network, while also appearing on the popular Iron Chef America program, writing several cookbooks, developing a vineyard in Italy, as well as owning working farms in both New York and Italy, he still finds time to vacation in Northport.
Well sort of.
While committing to himself and his family that he would not open a restaurant in northern Michigan (they want this to be their haven away from it all), Batali has found other ways to involve himself in the culinary community of the area. Recently he donated his chef skills to the Leelanau Conservancy (a cooking class and dinner for 12 that ended up selling at auction for $25,000). Next week he will spend two days at the Traverse Epicurean Classic where he will headline an all-star cast of Americas
best chefs, cookbook authors and wine experts.
The September 15 17 culinary extravaganza will feature 30 plus cooking classes, several seminars on wine, craft beer and fine spirits along with an opening night reception featuring the best wines, brews and foods from the area and a closing night reception (Grand Reception) featuring all of the chefs (including Batali) preparing a dish in front of attendees. Between it all there will be a cigar dinner, benefit auction, an international wine tasting pavilion and chances to cookbooks autographed. Last years Epicurean Classic raised several thousands of dollars for the Great Lakes Culinary Institute, and with Batalis presence, interest and ticket sales have already surpassed last years event.
Batali is definitely one of the hottest chefs out there, said Mark Dressler, who cofounded the event with Matt Sutherland and their spouses. His package is nearly sold out, and when you break it down it is an unbelievable deal.
Unbelievable, it is practically a giveaway. Considering Batali just took home the most prestigious honor in the culinary world as the winner of the James Beard Foundation 2005 Outstanding Chef of the Year Award, and reservations for his restaurants must be made months ahead of time, the opportunity to hang with Batali for the weekend for $300.00 is a giveaway.
Participants in the Chef Mario Batali Primo Package will attend his Friday afternoon cooking demonstration, receive an autographed copy of his newly released cookbook (Molto Italiano: Simple Italian Recipes To Cook At Home), attend his Great Chefs Dinner Friday night at Trattoria Stella that will feature recipes from the cookbook, and admission to one of the wine tasting classes being offered and a ticket to the Grand Reception and Wine Auction.
I am happy to be a part of this, said Batali. I have not visited the Great Lakes Culinary Institute yet but have heard great things, so I am excited to check it out.
For Batali life is all about simplicity and that includes in the kitchen.
I tell people that the hardest part about cooking is buying the groceries, said Batali. Great food doesnt start in the kitchen it starts at the store or farmers market. When you make the right choices from the start it is a lot easier in the kitchen.
Besides being known for his orange footwear, always wearing shorts regardless of the temperature and his energetic personality. He starts each day by waking around 6 am and choosing between his orange clogs and his orange Chuck Taylor high tops.
If I am going to be on my feet all day in the kitchen it is the clogs, if I am cruising or lounging around it is the Chuck Taylors, said Batali.
After the footwear selection he prepares breakfast for his wife Susi and their sons Benno and Leo, then he jumps on his scooter and heads to the gym for a workout. After a good sweat it is off to all of his restaurants then his daily 11 am meeting with his assistant and then back to the restaurants to help.
My primary responsibility is to remove all obstacles for my staff, said Batali. My success is a direct result of the talented staff that I have hired. I pay them extremely well and expect a lot out of them.
He got his start in the kitchen early.
In my family you started in the kitchen when you were old enough to stir a pot, said Batali. It was in college when I started working professionally in the kitchen.
His programs Molto Mario, Mediterranean Mario, Mario Eats Italy and Ciao America with Mario Batali on the Food Network have made him a celebrity. He credits the channel with reshaping Americas eating habits and fellow chef Emeril Lagasse with being a big part of it.
This country was headed down a corporate manipulated path that has destroyed food and I think the Food Network along with Alice Waters and the Slow Food Movement, have been helping us reclaim our traditions, said Batali. Emeril started on the Food Network 3 years before me and he showed the world that is was okay for men to be in the kitchen.
In his own kitchen it is pretty much a given that Batali will be preparing the meals, though his wife and sons often help. After all who needs to cook when you live with a world-class chef?
I think it is really a matter that I am quick in the kitchen and I am able to knock out meals for the family fast that makes it a given, said Batali. But as it should be everywhere, the whole family gets involved.
Batali enjoys his haven in northern Michigan, swimming in Lake Michigan, walks along the beach, fishing and just plain lounging. He has promised himself and his family that he wont ruin their time here by opening a restaurant in the area. Despite that promise it hasnt prevented him from he loaning his culinary skills to benefit the Leelanau Conservancy and now the Epicurean Classic. He sees the Epicurean Classic as being an important event for the region, along the same lines as the film festival his good friend Michael Moore put on in the area.
This area is abundant is culinary resources and it is important to showcase that to the world, said Batali. I love it here and so my commitment to the Conservancy was really selfish because I want to preserve and protect this area for myself, my family and my friends.
As for enjoying the culinary abundance of the region Batali shops at Hansens in Suttons Bay and Bells of Christmas in Northport. He has enjoyed meals around the area at the Riverside Inn in Leland, Tapawingo, Hannas and Modes but his favorite is Taqueria Margarita on South Airport in Traverse City.
They do such a great job there. The place is so authentic and it is a really good value, said Batali. What amazes me is that you never have to wait. It is probably the best kept secret in this town.
While Batali is a wine connoisseur he hasnt had time yet to visit the wineries on the Leelanau Peninsula as of yet but looks forward to tasting local wines at the Epicurean Classic.
At the dinner ($25,000 auction dinner to benefit the Leelanau Conservancy) I tasted some remarkable sparkling wine from
Larry Mawby. It is definitely world class, said Batali. I have heard great things about this wine region and look forward to tasting the wines.
Batali has his own vineyard in Southwest Italy in the Tuscany region. He will be releasing his third vintage this fall.
After the Epicurean Classic Batali will be busy touring the country promoting his new cookbook Molto Italiano: Simple Italian Recipes To Cook At Home ( See Tastemakers) and finishing up his new cookbook about tailgating at NASCAR events.
I have been to several races and what I have learned is the state of the food in America is very healthy, said Batali. People are having fun with food, they are being inspired by food again, and there are a lot of creative people out there whether it is in the parking lot at a NASCAR race or in their kitchen. This is great to see, this is really the way it ought to be and I am happy to be a part of it.
To experience food the Batali Way fun, simple and with humor, attend the Traverse Epicurean Classic September 15-17 at the Great Lakes Culinary Institute, where Batali and other top chefs will educate and entertain. Classes are filling up quickly (look for a profile on other chefs in next weeks Express) so check out
www.epicureanclassic.com for additional details and to sign up for classes or purchase tickets for dinners and wine tasting events.