Mario Batali — the chef who has done more to change the look and feel of Italian cooking in this country than anyone in 20 years — will be coming to Atlanta this weekend. Not to scout out a place to open a restaurant, alas, but to demonstrate recipes from his new cookbook, “Molto Gusto: Easy Italian Cooking” (Ecco, $29.99), at the Metropolitan Cooking & Entertaining Show at the Cobb Galleria Centre. Batali and his partners run 14 restaurants in New York (his home base), Las Vegas and Los Angeles, and are gearing up to open two more in a Singapore casino. He has authored several cookbooks and is a regular performer on the Food Network program “Iron Chef America.”
We spoke on the phone briefly:
Q: What are you planning to demonstrate?
A: Really this book is all about the simple and predominantly vegetable-based foods of the Italian daily table. So I’m planning to make a dish of cavolo nero (Tuscan kale) with ricotta thinned with olive oil and water — it’s like a thin soup. And I’m going to show how to make pizza at home. You can make something light, crisp and delicious in a regular oven.
Q: What do fans at these kinds of events usually ask you?
A: Most questions revolve around the veracity of “Iron Chef.” Is there really a secret ingredient? Do you really never lose? That’s where they think I live.
Q: When you go out for inexpensive ethnic food in New York, do you default to Latin or Asian?
A: Generally Asian if I can. There are great dumplings, five for a buck, in Chinatown. And if I want to go out to Flushing, Queens, there are 17 different kinds of Chinese food. The Number 7 train (that travels from Manhattan through Queens) is a wealth of fascination and deliciousness. Then again, nothing beats a legitimate taco.
Q: Where is New York restaurant culture going?
A: The restaurants have gotten so much smaller. I love this place Porchetta that has only three seats. And that’s all they serve: porchetta (roast pork), either a plate or a sandwich. It’s not the end of fine dining, but things are a lot more casual. It’s a great time to be in New York.
Q: So many chefs are making their own salumi now — something your father, Armandino Batali, was doing long before it was trendy. Do you think it’s oversaturated?
A. No. As long as it’s good and healthy, it can’t be too saturated. I love that people have learned how to do it. There’s a real satisfaction for a chef in doing things that people can’t do at home. That’s what I want when I go out. I don’t want a piece of nicely grilled tuna with a little salsa verde. I want a choucroute garni or a lasagna. Something that takes a lot of effort to make.
Q: Ever been to Atlanta?
A: I have, and loved it. Even that yuppie part. Buckhead?
Q: Ever been to the Clermont Lounge?
A: No, what’s that?
(Ten minutes later.)
Q: Do you stay in touch with your former employee Bruce Logue, now chef at La Pietra Cucina in Atlanta?
A: I love Bruce. He’s a very talented guy, and very thoughtful. I love hanging out with him.
Q: You going to eat there?
A: No, I’m flying back that night. It’s my father in law’s birthday.
Q: What are you doing for him?
A: I’m cooking at home. Spaghetti with ramps, leg of lamb and crème brûlée. His favorite dishes.
The Metropolitan Cooking & Entertaining Show takes place Saturday, May 1 and Sunday, May 2, at Cobb Galleria Centre. For more information, go to www.metrocooking.com