Mario Batali – A Great Chef

Mario Batali was born in Yakima, WA and raised in Seattle, in an Italian-French Canadian family which loved cooking. He began his love affair with cookery as a child, when he collected wild blackberries in his uniform pants and helped his grandmother make jams and pies with them. His family moved to Spain in 1975, and Mario spent his high school years studying in Spain, and then in 1978 returned to the U.S. and attended Rutgers University. He had a double major of economics and Spanish theater, and graduated in 1982.

While in college Mario began working as a dishwasher in New Brunswick, NJ’s Stuff Yer Face restaurant, but he soon graduated to pizza maker and chef. His first introduction to culinary training was at London’s Le Cordon Bleu, but he left almost immediately because he wanted more hands-on experience. He began an apprenticeship with Marco Pierre White at Six Bells public house in London’s Chelsea. He also worked in Paris’ Tour d’Argent, Provence’s Moulin de Mougins, and London’s Waterside Inn. In 1985 he became sous chef at San Francisco’s Four Seasons Clift, and later chef de cuisine at Santa Barbara’s La Marina. He resigned his job in 1989 and moved to the tiny village of Borgo Capanne in Northern Italy for three years in order to apprentice at La Volta, where he mastered traditional Italian cookery, before returning to his native United States, anxious to launch a restaurant of his own.

After working at a few of New York City’s hot spots, in 1998 he put on chef uniforms and opened Babbo, which immediately won the James Beard Foundation’s Best New Restaurant Award, and was given three stars by the New York Times (it won the New York Times‘ three stars again six years later). After Babbo‘s success, Mario opened another nine restaurants in New York, and also restaurants in Los Angeles and Las Vegas. In 1999 Mario was named “Man of the Year” in GQ‘s chef’s category; in 2002 he won the James Beard Foundation’s “Best Chef in New York City” award; and in 2008 its “Best Restaurateur” award.

Together with Bobby Flay and Wolfgang Puck, Mario was one of the Food Network’s Iron Chefs in their 2004 Battle of the Masters in chef pants with original Japanese Iron Chefs Morimoto and Sakai, which evolved into a weekly series in 2005. Mario’s other shows for Food Network include Molto Mario, Mediterranean Mario, Mario Eats Italy, Ciao America, and Mario Full Boil. In 2007 Mario left the Food Network for PBS, where he was featured in a thirteen-episode series about Spanish cuisine, Spain…on the Road Again. Mario is negotiating with the Travel Channel for a series about Italian cuisine. In 2009 Mario announced the inauguration of the Mario Batali Foundation, whose purpose is to educate, encourage, and empower children by raising funds for research in children’s diseases, for children’s literacy and hunger relief.

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