Friday, October 24, 2003

Mario Batali, Food Hall-of-Famer

It was evening, and Nigella Lawson, former journalist and now of "Nigella Bites" cookbook and TV show fame, wore a half-buttoned man's shirt as she drizzled syrup on a stack of at least ten pancakes. She gazed at the pancakes as if surveying a great work of art. She carefully cut a huge bite, tossed back her hair, and closed her eyes as she revelled in its glory. She was taking a second monster bite as program credits rolled over her TV image.

Martha Stewart, one-time stockbroker, samples every edible made on her show lately. Bobby Flay can't resist taking hearty televised noshes of his spicy southwest dishes. Rachael Ray tastes all of her 30-minute meals at program end, athough actor/chef Emeril feeds his clamoring audience more than himself. Possible anorexic Sandra Lee of the new "Semi Homemade" cooking show cheerily munches her ultra-quick-and-yummy snacks, desserts and odd cocktails (a beer margarita? why?). Paula Deen, the TV queen of indulgent southern cooking, luxuriates in sensuous bites of her down-home concoctions.

These are attractive people with TV-acceptable bodies and perfect TV-friendly wardrobes and grooming, yet they are constantly pictured eating fatty and sugary foods, and lots of it. I suppose they all could have superior genes and faster metalbolisms than us, but that seems unlikely. The logical guess is that they don't actually eat like that very often....that (gasp) maybe some don't even enjoy eating complex, heavy gastronomical pleasures. In other words, it is an act. It is sitcom and drama, not reality TV. They don't live like that, or they wouldn't look like that.

Which brings me to why I like Mario Batali, currently of "Molto Mario." He lives and breathes authentic Italian food, and you know it. His knowledge of all culinary things Italian is amazing, and his passion for it is unsurpassed. And he looks a man who often consumes (and is consumed by) his own cooking. He is stocky and overweight with a round, perpetually smiling face, and his impossibly orange-red hair is pulled back into a ponytail. His clothes are blandly neutral except for his tired red high-top tennis shoes. You just know that he wears those same clothes at home. Like a person driven by a single passion, his appearance is an afterthought.

In past decades, all the great chefs were a bit zaftig and not overly polished or broadcast beautiful. Think James Beard and Julia Child. Mario may be the only TV chef today in a class with these food extraordinary chef, passionate and knowledgeable about his culinary subject, utterly comfortable as mere background to his creations, and obviously delighted with consuming his own fare.

Mark me down as Mario fan. His love of cooking and food is not just an ratings-driven act. He is the real deal.

Send emails to

No comments: