NYCWFF: R-rated Chat with Batali and Michael Symon

By Emily Rothschild  |  October 20, 2013
Credit: Courtesy of The Chew

As a part of the New York City Wine & Food Festival, chefs and The Chew co-hosts Mario Batali and Michael Symon sat down for a lively, unedited chat with NY Times reporter Julia Moskin. There were f-bombs (five, to be exact), controversial questions and a lot of honest answers. Here are the 10 most interesting things we learned.

1. On the success of The Chew:

“Clearly, chicks dig us," said Batali. Julia Moskin mentioned that the show is killing it in key demos (up 64% in women 18-34 and 48% in women 18-49), and in addition to appealing to the ladies, the two believe that as their comfort level has grown with the other hosts, the chemistry has gotten better and they think viewers could sense that.

Bonus info: Apparently the show was greenlit a full year before Batali and Symon signed on.

Double bonus info: Batali’s lowest point on the show was being asked to make ghost pizza. Symon’s was making a Salisbury steak that apparently took a turn for the worse.

2. How they feel about the “precious food movement”:

“All of our best work, tomorrow is poop” was Batali’s quick-witted response to certain chefs (they wouldn’t name names) who take themselves and their cooking so seriously. Batali’s point was that at the end of the day all chefs are in the business of feeding people, and, well, all food eventually ends up in the same place.

Bonus Symon quote: That kind of food is “six-year-old food. ‘Look what I can do’ food.”

3. On the farm-to-table movement: 

“Where the f--k does it go if it doesn’t go to the table? To the toy factory?” Batali got a little worked up when talk turned to this trend, but not because he doesn’t believe in it - basically he simply “doesn’t like slogans.” But of course both feel very strongly about working closely with farmers; in fact, they agreed that one of the toughest parts of being a chef is “finding great ingredients.”

Bonus info: Batali is working on a book called Crop Stars that will highlight some of his favorite farmers and then offer a recipe he’s developed around each one’s crop.

4. Does Michael Symon have any plans to open a restaurant in NYC?

Nope. He consulted on the now-closed Parea a few years back, but that experience made him realize the importance of his partners (one of whom is his wife Liz, who’s in charge of design and the beverage program), and he wouldn’t do it again without them. He now feels like NYC is a place where he can focus solely on the TV show, and wants to keep it that way.

5. Why does Batali open so many restaurants?

Batali currently owns 23 restaurants, most of which are original concepts. Why does he continue opening brand new places, which is much harder than scaling out existing restaurants? Because he wants to keep his most skilled staffers. Instead of easily letting a talented sous chef go, he asks them instead to come up with a brand new concept, and then will work with that chef to open a new place rather than watch them go to a Danny Meyer or other restaurateur.

6. Why does Batali retweet nasty tweets?

Both Batali and Symon are active on social media, and Batali in particular is known to retweet followers who’ve said rude things, but why? Simple, because his devoted followers will attack the offender. As he says, it’s the “greatest thing when people are rude.” Once you retweet it you can “watch your friends eat [the offender] alive.”

7. What’s the most important piece of kitchen equipment for a home cook to own?

According to Symon, it’s a cast iron pot so you can effectively use high heat and get a good sear. According to Batali, it’s a good knife. Enough said.

8. Their take on the Paula Deen debacle:

Batali felt the whole thing was “poorly managed - her staff let her down.”

9. What’s the key to winning battles on Iron Chef?

Spice, acidity and salt. That flavor combo is sure to leave a quick impact.

10. What was each wearing?

Batali showed up in his trademark orange Crocs and matching orange shorts, while Symon hid all of his tattoos under a plaid button-down and jeans. Both wore a black vest (fleece for Batali, quilted for Symon). And yes, both looked dashing.