Entrepreneur, food writer, TV personality, wine producer, all of these definitions aren't enough to describe him. One things is certain, Joe Bastianich wants us to know this: “ I’m not a chef, I’m a restaurateur”. His Friulian DNA and a cook for a mother gave him the right start. After studying economy, he created his own empire of popolarity, restaurants and wine labels.
FDL caught up with him for an interview:
Tell us three things you can’t stand when eating out.
Polyester napkins, plastic menus, and soda from soda guns. If you see any of these upon entering a restaurant, turn around immediately.
When you opened Felidia in Manhattan in 1981, did you have any idea Americans would be so enthusiastic about dishes like iota, gulasch and frico?
My mother Lidia would make dishes that she grew up cooking for our customers at our family’s first restaurant, Buonavia. She’d visit the tables and offer diners a taste of whatever she’d been making that day – tripe, risotto- it was the first time people here had experienced this type of ethnic food- and they loved it.
Is it still a good idea to open Italian restaurants in the U.S.?
Of course. Italian food is the most beloved cuisine in the US- the world in fact. Good, authentic Italian restaurants will always have a place here.
Why did you decide to embrace the Eataly project in New York?
Eataly founder Oscar Farinetti was looking for American partners to help bring the store to New York, and he sought out my mother, me and Mario. From the start we were blown away by the concept and knew this was something we wanted to be a part of. Two and a half years later the store is a huge success and has changed the way New Yorkers shop, eat, and cook- for the better.
You have wine companies based in Friuli, Maremma, and Piedmont in Italy, as well as Argentina. When did you become passionate about wine?
I own three wineries in Italy, and I make a wine called Tritono in Argentina with winemaker Matias Mayol. Wine has always been a part of my life. I have a discerning palette- my mother used to call me “a born taster”. My passion and appreciation for wine and wine making only increased as we spent more and more time in Italy while I was growing up. I was fortunate enough to be exposed to some of Italy’s best wine makers, and both they and their wines left quite an impression.
You’ve written many successful books, including the recent Restaurant Man" (2012).
Restaurant Man is my memoir- about growing up in the New York City restaurants scene over 4 decades.
Describe the restaurant of your dreams. And where would it be?
As a matter of fact, I’m planning on opening it in Cividale , next to my winery in late summer/early fall. It will be a small, intimate space that celebrates local wines and the cuisine of Friuli.
How do you manage so many kitchens in so many places?
Managing multiple restaurants all over the world is a juggling act at times, and it certainly didn’t happen overnight. You learn what works and what doesn’t as you move forward. Having a solid and like-minded team working for you is also imperative. Mario (Batali, my business partner) and I have a knack for finding and cultivating talent- in fact some have gone on to become partners, and this has made for successful expansion.
After college, you were a bond trader. What triggered the change?
My time on Wall Street taught me that pursing something solely for monetary gain was a one way ticket to unhappiness. Ultimately my dissatisfaction in the world of finance lead me to what I was truly passionate about- food and wine.