Monday, December 12, 2016

Mario Batali in Singapore: MBS Talk, Osteria Mozza, New Book

Mario Batali is in town. Last Saturday, the larger-than-life chef and TV personality gave our culinary students an inspiring and entertaining talk at Marina Bay Sands.

The group of 30 local students from the Culinary Institute of America, At-Sunrice, and Temasek Polytechnic clearly enjoyed the 'In Conversation With' session at the MasterCard Theatres Foyer.


Besides being a successful chef with 25 restaurants, a philanthropist, and an author of 11 cookbooks, Mario Batali is one of the first few chefs to break into the TV world in the early 2000s. He is also an Emmy award winner for Best Talk Show Host for ABC’s The Chew, and has hosted numerous successful TV shows including Ciao America, Molto Mario and Iron Chef America.

But his advice to the aspiring chefs: do this not to become a media star, but because do it out of the generosity of heart and spirit of hospitality, and cook with every ounce of passion.

"Chefs today are considered craftsmen. Cooking is no longer something you do when you come out of school, before you...go to jail," he jokes.

What he looks for in an aspiring chef is not cooking skills but innate leadership. "I can teach you to cook, but the ability to work with and motivate your crew is something far more valuable."

During the Q&A session, one student asked, "Was there any point in time when you were down and how did you pick yourself up?"

Mario said, "Almost every week. As a line chef, I worried whether I could be cooking better. As a manager, I wonder why I can't motivate my staff to be more caring. But there's got to be something in your heart; you're doing it because you love it. I'll think: cooking is better than counting other people's money in a windowless office in a bank! You can always find sunny sky in any moment."

One of the students asked him to share his advice for success in running a restaurant:

Mario also clearly likes to elicit a chuckle (or blush).

"You're putting something good into someone's body," he says with a cheeky smile. "You should put your best effort into it, all your heart, creativity and soul. Being a chef or lover, it's the same thing."

And on the oft-asked question of the last meal, he had this to say:

Most recently, Mario Batali was invited to cook at the White House for the final State Dinner with President of the United States Barack Obama. It's something he describes as the highest professional honour he has ever had, and that it was simply amazing meeting the Obamas, especially Michelle.

But he also emphasised that "the job of a chef is to be able to cook with equal passion for the most important person as for the customer 273 of table 5. When you can do that with all your fibre and your being, your worst day will still be better than the best day of others."

Never a dull moment with Mario.

Mr Batali was also in town to launch the regional dinner series for Osteria Mozza. It's pretty rare to have the man himself visiting; usually we get Nancy Silverton for anything involving the Mozza restaurants here.

So each month, Osteria Mozza will take guests on a gastronomic adventure to discover the rich traditions and special produce paired with wine styles that are unique to a particular region of Italy.

They kicked off with a wine dinner on 9 December 2016 that highlighted the region of Piedmont, with its prized white Alba truffles and Barolo wines.

Highlights from this menu include:

* Carne Cruda: a wagyu beef tartare that is a traditional antipasto in that region. The tartare is chopped to order with Wagyu hanger steak dressed with aceto balsamico and topped with crispy beef fat, rosemary and garlic chips. It is served with toast drizzled with beef dripping and finished with shavings of black truffles.

* Vitello Tonnato: a classic Piedmontese dish with slow roasted veal loin thinly sliced, accompanied by confit of tuna belly covered in a creamy tuna aioli and sprinkled with a touch of capers and chervil. This dish stems back to the early 1900s when trading between what we now know as Liguria (a coastal region of northwestern Italy) and Piedmont took place, allowing the land locked region access to seafood.

* Tajarin with Alba Truffles: a thin and rich egg pasta tossed in Italian butter, parmigiano reggiano and finished with the “Diamonds” of Alba or shavings of the prized white Alba truffles. This symphony of fresh produce and bold flavours is followed by Agnolotti with Barolo Sugo, a pork and veal ravioli cooked in a rich Barolo wine from the Piedmont region and veal sauce. The agnolotti pasta is shaped to resemble the candy wrappers of the famous chocolatiers of Piedmont.

* Braised Beef Cheeks with Celery Root: this is a classic main dish featuring slow cooked beef cheeks in Barolo wine and veal stock accompanied by celery root puree and Gremolata, an Italian condiment consisting of parsley, lemon zest and garlic. Round up the meal with the Fig Crostata with Panna Cotta and Saba, a decadent dessert common across Italy and in Piedmont.

The Italian regional dinner series is offered daily from 5 – 11pm at Osteria Mozza and is priced at S$128++ or S$228++ with wine pairing. The Piedmont menu will be offered till mid-January 2017 and after that, guests can look forward to the regions of Emilia Romagna, Fruili and Tuscany.

Mario also has a new book out. Big American Cookbook lovingly compiles the best loved dishes across America; it's a celebration of immigrant culture and their food reinterpreted with local ingredients. The mix of European, African and New World gastronomies has created a slew of wonderfully creative and tasty dishes.


It's like a culinary travel guide (often of little towns) from New England to Deep South, across the Gulf Coast and up to the Pacific Coast. He makes special mention of the Iowa Loose Meat Sandwich.

The recipes are far simpler than his previous cookbooks; these are not his interpretations but the most common take of the dish, perhaps that which you'd find at a local diner. What's most important is how they speak of the place they are served.

The photographs are luscious. I'm so glad to have a copy; it's going to be a well-thumbed book.

Many thanks to Marina Bay Sands for the invitation to the talk

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