The conventional wisdom, according to Ol’ Blue Eyes anyway, is that if you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere. By that exacting standard, Joe Bastianich – like fellow Italian-American Frank Sinatra – has well and truly got it made. Over the past 25 years, the author, TV host, food entrepreneur, winery owner and – just for good measure – marathon runner, has gone from opening a family-style restaurant with his mother and parlayed it into a food empire spanning various corners of the globe including, among other things, an eclectic group of restaurants (32 and counting).
Of course, it helps that his mother is celebrity chef and cookbook author Lidia Bastianich, the Italian Mama prototype who is also a partner in several of his ventures. Having ‘Molto Mario’ – American chef-restaurateur Mario Batali – as a long-time business partner doesn’t hurt either. Together, they preside over a number of New York City’s most popular Italian restaurants, including Babbo, Lupa, Del Posto and more recently, La Sirena.
Yet these places pale in comparison to Eataly, a mega food hall concept that is the largest Italian marketplace in the world, originally started in Italy and expanding faster than you can say “Mama Mia”. Mr Bastianich and Mr Batali have teamed with founder Oscar Farinetti to open a chain of Eatalys in the U.S. and abroad, with more locations on the horizon.
Mr Bastianich, 48, was born in New York but travels frequently to his spiritual home in northern Italy where he owns an eponymous winery (plus two others) and – given his penchant for multi-tasking – is a host of both MasterChef Italia and car show Top Gear Italia. He was in town recently to check on Osteria Mozza and Pizzeria Mozza, the Singapore outposts of the Italy-in-California concept that he shares with chef Batali and chef Nancy Silverton.
Italian restaurants are in your blood. You grew up in your parents’ restaurants in Queens and later helped out at Felidia, a New York institution (open since 1981), although your first job was as a bond trader on Wall Street. You haven’t looked back since you opened your own eatery Becco in 1993. It’s been some ride. Mine is an immigrant story. My parents came to America very poor and worked in the food industry: my father was a waiter and my mother worked in a bakery. In the late-60s, early-70s, the restaurant business was a very blue-collar job and I was embarrassed to tell my friends what my parents did. You didn’t go home after school, you went straight to the restaurant to work. I would fall asleep on a bag of flour, wake up and go back to school. Now, the industry is media-driven and over the past 40 years the transformation has been monumental. It’s not just about serving people anymore, it’s about entertaining them. Continue reading Q&A at The Business Times.
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