Talking with Culinary Superstar Mario Batali

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We’re still pinching ourselves over the fact that veritable food god, Mario Batali (he of the orange Crocs, world-renowned restaurants and slew of top-rated TV shows), has taken such an active role in Taste Talks. He may not boast the fancy title of curator, but he’s been utterly instrumental in both programming and promotion since the beginning, appearing at each official announcement, recruiting participants from his vast Rolodex of famous friends, moderating his own fascinating panels, and even hosting a number of events this year at the Chicago outpost of his sprawling Italian emporium, Eataly.  

So in anticipation of Taste Talk’s 2014 launch, we chatted with the ponytailed impresario about what to expect from his upcoming panel— “From Indie Bands to Grandpa’s Buick: What’s the Buzz?” —as well as what inspires him about Chicago’s dining scene, and the particular programs he’s looking forward to the most this year (besides his own, of course)!

How did you originally connect with Taste Talks, and what made you decide to come back for the second year?
My pal and unending inspiration, April Bloomfield, asked me to curate a panel for last year’s event. Rather than speak on the panel, I acted as moderator and I loved it. It was a pleasure to handpick the panelists and steer the conversation. Naturally, I wanted to be involved again, and engage the people I think are smartest in the food space.

You’ve been highly involved in both iterations of the festival thus far. Why not just take on the role of curator?
I liked the direction Daniel and Scott were taking the festival. It’s growing and expanding, but they’re still keeping their indie charm. I like that about them. When I like something, I want to jump aboard. Simple as that. By empowering a local curator, Danny Bowien, we’re getting the insight of yet another one of my favorite people.

Your Chicago outpost of Eataly will serve as home base for many of Taste Talks’ Windy City events this year. What do you find especially exciting about Chicago’s dining scene?
Chicago’s been one of my favorite food towns since the first time I visited. Paul Kahan is exciting. Hot Doug’s is exciting. Girl and the Goat is exciting. I love that town.

How did you come up with the subject of your Brooklyn panel “From Indie Bands to Grandpa’s Buick”?
There’s an unending thirst for newness in the restaurant space. I want to consider how some folks have stayed relevant in the changing space, without compromising their ideology. I want to consider how a restaurant becomes and stays buzzworthy and cool. So we’ll ask the people that help determine what’s hip.

Besides your own panels, what events/dinners/etc. are you most looking forward to at both the Brooklyn and Chicago installments of Taste Talks? 
I’m excited about Danny Bowien and Paul Kahan’s events. I asked them to be a part of Taste Talks because I think they are two of the most interesting people in the biz. Canned soup from scratch with Danny and Christina Tosi? Brilliance. I’m also big into Instagram these days, so I’m looking forward to the technique sessions to get some tips on food photography.

Taste Talks Food & Drink returns to Brooklyn September 12-14, 2014. See the full schedule and buy tickets here.



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