If there’s anyone who can give us great advice about becoming a great chef or making it in the cut-throat restaurant business, it’s none other than the orange crocs-wearing, vespa-riding, prolific chef Mario Batali.
In his 30-year career, he has become a revered chef (adored by both loyal diners and fellow chefs), a well-respected businessman with a Midas touch, and a household name in the process. With hard work and a lot of foresight, he has built a global chain of restaurants such as Osteria Mozza, as well as spearheaded Eataly—an Italian food market, which he started with a few business partners in New York, and has grown to include outlets in Boston and Chicago.
Batali shows no signs of slowing down. At the most recent edition of In Conversations With at Marina Bay Sands, he said that they’re planning to open more stores in Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Toronto in the next three years.
What’s the secret to success? Batali shares the key ingredients.
“I grew up in the 1970s… where cooking wasn’t cool; it was something you did right after you got out of the military—or before you go to prison. Throughout my career, I have watched it grow from being an afterthought to becoming the centrepiece of their evenings. Food now is considered a craft, and chefs are the craftsmen and artists.”
“Don’t be a chef to become a media star… do it because you love it and you want to be radically, intrinsically and physically involved in the food production. Cook because you want to make something delicious and you want to share this experience with others.”
“Not everyone can be the Lebron James in the food profession… but it doesn’t diminish your purpose. It only strengthens your role as players in the field of hospitality. You’re lucky to be in this field where you can give something from your core, from your soul.”
“I am looking for people… with basic life education. I can show you how to make linguini with clams or osso bucco, but I can’t teach you how to be fascinated with them.”
“As a cook, as a generous soul… the food itself is more important than the business. Yes, you can all be chefs, operate fantastic businesses and be successful, but don’t diminish the idea of food as a culture and as an experience.”
“My goal in life… is to stop you from going to fast food chains and eating bad food. Home-cooked meals are 10 times more interesting than eating in a restaurant.”
“Eataly is about… reinforcing the idea that you should be cooking at home. We will help you do that, but we won’t hand you already grilled steak or ready-made pasta. We will allow you to taste the food and walk away with the idea that you should be making it yourself.”
“There are moments every week… when you feel like things aren’t going your way but always remember that a bad day in a restaurant is so much better than a great day counting somebody else’s money in a windowless office.”
“In starting a restaurant business… you need to live on the intersection of art (food you want to make) and commerce (food your customers want to eat). If you can find that in the same vicinity, then you’re off to a great start.”
Photos courtesy of Marina Bay Sands