When it comes to Joe Bastianich, it’s ‘live like an Italian,’ rather than ‘cook like an Italian.’ Perhaps this is why he’s king when it comes to Italian cuisine. Longtime partner of Iron Chef Mario Batali, Bastianich is the ‘restaurant man’ behind iconic favorites such as Babbo, Del Posto, Esca, Casa Mono, and Osteria Mozza (to name a few). This acclaimed restaurateur grew up in the restaurant industry; he started out at his parents’ restaurant in Queens, cleaning sidewalks and exploring the meat markets of the Bronx. But it was only after college that Bastianich ditched finance studies and the three-piece suit, and finally gave into his true passion. He went on a gastronomical journey through the Italian peninsula, and it was here he experienced a variety of occupations in the industry – from grape picker to waiter to cook – which allowed him to truly get a sense of both Italian culture and the culinary industry as a whole. Perhaps this is what makes Bastianich the acclaimed restaurant man that he is. Now a successfully published author of the newly released book Restaurant Man, Bastianich sets the tone when it comes to the hospitality industry. A partner on dozens of restaurants across the country, Bastianich recently opened Eataly in New York – the largest artisinal food and wine market in the world. This Restaurant Man shines on the screen as well as off of it, judging alongside Gordon Ramsay and Graham Elliot on Fox’s Masterchef – currently on its 3rd acclaimed season. Bastianich manages to bring the beloved Italian culture to our back doors, and as always a passion to the industry that remains unparalleled.
What would be your ideal food day?
I think that depends on where I am and what season it is. In the summer, if I am with my family in Italy, calamari from the Adriatic with olive oil and a squeeze of lemon; letting the edges caramelize on the grill can be simple perfection. If it is truffle season, then a day filled with white truffles wouldn’t be so bad. Start with a shaving over eggs in the morning, and finish off the night with white truffles over agnolotti and a good bottle of Nebbiolo – could be a great day.
Our website often moves from the back of the house to the front of the house, a dynamic you talk a lot about in your new book, Restaurant Man. How would you describe the relationship between the front and the back of the house of a restaurant? Who are the major players?
There is an ongoing love/hate dynamic in most restaurants that plays itself out night after night. Primarily because in every good restaurant there are two kings of the castle – your general manager and your head chef. Sometimes they get along better than others, but there is usually a power struggle to some degree.
How does the owner, i.e. the Restaurant Man, stay in control of this dynamic?
You have to remain involved, and the more restaurants you have, the harder that is. I’m certainly not able to spend most evenings on the Babbo stoop, as I did in years past, but I think it helps when you employ likeminded people. And to stay as involved as you can.