Mario Batali may not officially live in Los Angeles, but as a partner in the Mozza empire and Eataly (the latter with a soon-to-open Westfield Century City location),the New York–based chef certainly spends a lot of time here. Batali's most recent trip out to the best coast was partly in support of his new book, Big American Cookbook: 250 Recipes From Across the USA. He greeted this reporter with a simple statement: “I love Los Angeles.”
Sometimes it's hard for people from other places to admit that.
Why? Because they're extremely jealous of your weather? The close proximity to the most fertile fields of sea urchin in the world?
It's nice to be appreciated as a food city.
Though I don't appreciate the “C” health department grade. Jonathan Gold seems to relish that. I'm not willing to die for noodles or pork intestines. I prefer “A.” I know what a “B” looks like in the kitchen. If you've seen a dead cat lying next to a bunch of roaches under the fucking burners, you know that's not cool. And that's what that grade means. A “B” doesn't mean that it's groovy and Anthony Bourdain eats there. A “B” means someone's going to get sick this month.
What are your go-tos in L.A.?
I'm a fan of everything from Gladstone's to Pink's. But I tend to go to my own [restaurants]. Because I like to check up on the team, and they're always happy to have me in the kitchen, whether I'm explaining or questioning. Which I generally don't. Liz Hong, the executive chef at Mozza, has a really smart attitude, and Nancy Silverton always has a joyous expression of everything right about good. I had drinks there last night after dinner at Providence, which was mind-bendingly good. At my late age, I'm far more impressed with product than technique. So when they do something simple, like prawns baked in salt … it tells you so much about the confidence of the chef.
Is Providence a favorite here?
Providence is one of my favorite places. So is Pink's. Because I like to eat around 2 a.m. and there's nothing else open. No, not really, but it is, for me, a quintessential L.A. experience.
You probably learned a lot about various places' quintessential culinary experiences in writing your cookbook, which is divided by American regions.
Yeah, regions. But I made them up.
They make sense. And you dig into the history of the dishes, too.
When you talk about American traditions, remember that we're not even 300 years old. We really bought most of our traditions in a foreign country and brought them to us. Which is really what this book's about: how the immigrant experience has formed into a national cuisine of our own. You go from the Midwest and taste the food of the northeastern European, Ukraine and Russia and Poland, and then you go to the American South and see where the French and Creole and Spanish ingredients have created Cajun food — that's what this is all about. And everyone celebrating that diverse collection of stuff is what makes American cuisine so interesting.
(And check out the wild way Batali does mashed potatoes.)