The Untold Truth Of Mario Batali

He's a well-known Iron Chef and a (once) successful restaurateur, and he's known worldwide for his signature style: orange Crocs, a ponytail, and those far from fashionable zip-up vests. He has a gift for creating recipes that take the simple and elevate it into something amazing, and he does it with an ease that makes it look nearly effortless. He has a huge list of awards to his name, is a champion of using local, fresh ingredients, and trained in London and Italy. He's also got a dark side that only started to come to light in late 2017. 

You've seen him work magic on The Food Network and The Chew, but there's quite a bit you don't know about Mario Batali. It's not all good... but it's not all bad either. This is the untold truth of chef Mario Batali.

Mario Batali forbids yelling in the kitchen

Watch any show about cooking in professional kitchens, and you're likely to think it involves a lot of noise, shouting, and more than a bit of cursing. But that's not the case at all in Mario Batali's kitchens, and when he talked to The New York Times in 2012, he was quick to point out that not only was yelling not the norm, it was forbidden.

Batali says his rule is that in order to talk, people are required to use conversational tones and be close enough to the person they're talking to that they can reach out and touch each other. When it comes to reprimands and fixing problems, there's still no yelling, and Batali says it's a direct but not cruel conversation telling the person exactly what they need to do and what's expected of them. It's within earshot of others in the kitchen to ensure that everyone's on the same page, but he says he's not a fan of the name-calling and mocking that he's seen go on in other kitchens.

Mario Batali meditates to manage his temper

It's no secret that working in a restaurant in any capacity can be incredibly stressful, and when you're in charge of multiple restaurants and countless employees, that stress level goes through the roof. Batali has found a way to manage his temper and his stress levels, and that's by practicing mantra-based transcendental meditation.

He told the podcast 10% Happier (via ABCNews) that he was introduced to the idea by Jerry Seinfeld and his wife. After joining them for a couple of dinners and talking about how much of a positive impact regular meditation could have, he not only decided to give it a go, but he says he noticed a difference within a month. "[...] it allowed me to more carefully or more slowly react to something that was offending me, bothering me." Now, it's a part of his daily routine, and he meditates twice a day for 20 minutes at a time.

Mario Batali has serious advice when it comes to work ethics

It's no secret that building a successful restaurant empire is hard, and Batali has offered up some advice on just how he's made it work — and it's advice that can be applied to any profession or passion. He summed up three points for Forbes in 2016: "Be the first one there and the last one out," "If you do what you love, then you'll never work a day in your life," and "Surround yourself with a team of people that is the only team that matters to you."

He's also credited his father with instilling a work ethic in him from his childhood. He told The New York Times of an incident where his father — a heat treatment engineer for Boeing — called him home after he'd gone to a friend's house. He'd done the dishes but left the sink a mess, and he says that was a key moment that he realized how important it is to see a job through to the end.

Mario Batali is a supporter of Meatless Mondays

Batali is famous for his meat dishes, particularly his pork-based creations. But he's also a supporter of Meatless Monday, a worldwide initiative officially founded in 2003 that has support from everyone from animal welfare activists to environmentalists. Batali might seem like an unlikely name to add to that list, but in 2010 he took a pledge to introduce the concept across the board at every single one of his restaurants. "Asking everyone to go vegetarian or vegan isn't a realistic or attainable goal," he said about the move. "But we can focus on a more plant-based diet, and support the farmers who raise their animals humanely and sustainably. That's why I'm such a big believer in the Meatless Monday movement."

He made the commitment to have at least two vegetarian options on the menu of every restaurant on every Monday. Those interested in seeing what he's whipping up can check his web site for one of his favorites, a vegetarian frittata packed with parsnips, eggs, cheese, and chives.

Mario Batali settled a tip skimming lawsuit for $5.25 million

In 2010, Batali and business partner Joe Bastianich found themselves on the receiving end of a lawsuit filed by two of their employees, both on the wait staff of West Village restaurant Babbo. According to the lawsuit, tips were being pooled and, before being distributed to the wait staff, an amount equal to 4.5 percent of the evening's wine sales was deducted from the tips. The partners were also accused of failing to pay appropriate overtime to employees who worked more than a 10-hour shift.

The lawsuit covered staff who had worked at the restaurants in almost all front of house capacities between July 22, 2004 and February 14, 2012, and included 117 plaintiffs in total. When the case was settled in March of 2012, there was a legal stipulation that forbid Batali and Bastianich from publicly discussing the case, but it was revealed that they settled for a whopping $5.25 million.

Robin Williams and Billy Crystal are among Mario Batali's favorite customers

When you're a celebrity chef who's at the top of their game, you're bound to get a lot of celebrity attention. In Eater's 2016 conversation with Batali, they asked him who his favorite celebrity guests were. In addition to liking the reaction he got from other customers when Bill Clinton comes strolling in, he also said that some of the best times were when Robin Williams and Billy Crystal would come in together.

"[...] literally the whole dining room would listen to them kibitzing back and forth," Batali said. "Robin Williams, at the end of the meal, would always go to the bar and get two bottles of champagne, pour a glass for every chef in the kitchen, and bring it back to them."

Mario Batali almost died in 1999

Batali's fame, success, and restaurants almost didn't happen. It was 1999, and it was an occasion that should have been exciting: opening night for his third restaurant. He was double-checking the dishwasher to make sure it was working properly when he heard a noise that he described as "a flushing tube of water [...] going somewhere." At first, he thought it was coming from the dishwasher, then thought it was something in his ear. It was a brain aneurysm, and it nearly killed him. Voices became muffled, a headache settled in, and he headed into the hospital that night. He was rushed into emergency surgery the next morning, and it saved his life.

The odds were stacked pretty high against him. Half of those that suffer from aneurysms die immediately, four out of five suffer permanent brain damage, and only about 10 percent of sufferers recover completely. Batali was fortunate enough to be in that 10 percent, and since then he's been an outspoken supporter of the Brain Aneurysm Foundation.

What's with Mario Batali and Crocs?

Most celebrity chefs have their own signature look, and for Batali it's the cargo shorts and bright orange Crocs. Love them or hate them, they're undeniably him — and when he talked to Inc. (in a now-deleted article) and they asked him why he had thing for the bright orange Crocs, he gave a heartwarming answer.

"Orange became the national family Batali color," he said. When his kids were young — 2 and 4 years old — in the mid-90s, they would be out playing with groups of friends. While those friends were typically dressed in dark, neutral colors, Batali dressed his in bright orange and bright yellow so he could pick out which were his kids from across the park. "Because there is nothing more frightening than not being able to find your children, especially young ones," he said. When he opened his first restaurant, his wife bought him a pair of distinctive orange shoes, and the pre-Croc shoes were operating room clogs from Italy. Once the orange Crocs came out it was love at first sight — so much so that he ordered 200 pairs when he heard they were being discontinued.

Mario Batali has been accused of installing food inspector alarms

No one will argue that health inspectors are necessary, but in 2013 one of Batali's employees stepped forward with a claim that he thought they weren't. According to the accusation, Batali's restaurants were outfitted with a buzzer that could be pressed from the hostess stations, sounding an alarm in the kitchen. That was a signal that the health inspectors were on premises, and chefs were to throw away what they were working on and leave the kitchen. Since most fines were issued for improper temperatures and worker sanitation violations, the idea was to get rid of the source of most issues.

According New York Post, the buzzer system was confirmed by other employees. A manager and a hostess both confirmed the systems were in place at Lupa and Babbo (but that they hadn't been used), and Batali refused to comment. Partner Joe Bastianich did, though, denying the entire thing. "You don't have to throw away food," he said. "The rules are not that idiotic." He also added that they weren't in the business of evading health inspectors, and another employee said they were once so fastidious about health and safety that Batali would fire the managers of restaurants who didn't pass with an A grade.

Mario Batali is careful about his diet and his weight

Being a professional chef comes with its hazards, including the inevitable weight gain that comes from being surrounded by food all day long. Weight sneaks on before you know it, and Batali got his wake-up call in a very public way: when he was center stage on ABC's The Chew. When he sat down on a bed for one segment, it broke beneath him. Even The Daily Mail picked up on the giggles from his co-stars, and that's the sort of thing that really makes you sit up and take notice.

Batali — who reportedly weighed around 280 pounds at the time — made a commitment to change his eating habits. In 2016, he told Grub Street, "I would say I probably eat less than half the food I ate in 2011. I pay attention now, you know? As you get a little bit older, you've got to."

He says portion control is key. When he's trying things on the show, he eats one sample instead of ten. He limits other things to two bites, has grapes for a snack, and squeezes in early morning exercise sessions, even if it's just going for a walk.

Mario Batali has gotten into trouble comparing bankers to Hitler

In 2011, Batali appeared on a panel of guests at an event hosted by Time magazine to discuss who was worthy of being that year's Person of the Year. Some of his remarks got him in serious hot water, though, and after recommending food writer Michael Pollan for the honor, he went on to say the industry that has had the most impact on the world was the banking industry. "The way the bankers have toppled the way that money is distributed, and taken most of it into their own hands, is as good as Stalin or Hitler, the evil guys," he said.

Needless to say, the statement didn't go over well. His spokeswoman issued an apology not long afterward, but the damage had been done. Investment firms and Wall Street bankers cancelled reservations, and at least one bank sent out a memo saying that they would no longer honor expense reports looking for reimbursement for money spent at his restaurants. It didn't go away, either, and in 2013 he was on Bloomberg TV's Titans of the Table, still trying to smooth ruffled feathers and calling the media reaction to his comments "imminently regrettable".

Mario Batali believes food will be behind the revolution

When Batali sat down to chat with LinkedIn, they covered all sorts of topics. The strangest was probably his views on the distinct possibility of revolution within America, something he sees coming in the next 25 years — give or take.

When asked for clarification, Batali said, "There should be a ubiquity of education, of access to food and resources that should not be stolen or misappropriated by the 1 to 10, 20, 40 percent. They should be shared, [...] We shouldn't look at hunger relief or education as a charity." He went on to say that if things kept going in the same direction they've been going in, he wouldn't be surprised to see people descend into violence because of a lack of good, nutritious food. He went on to say that it wasn't necessarily a doom-and-gloom prediction, and that while he doesn't condone the idea of violence, "I don't see violence as out of line."

Mario Batali's pot brownies were an apparent fail

Batali has posted so many recipes that it's unlikely even the most dedicated home cook will ever get the chance to try them all, but the most unique might be his take on pot brownies. The double chocolate brownies were posted on Food 52, with the disclaimer that they were only for those living in a state where pot was legal, and that anyone who did decide to make them should "make sure you're not driving and that you're hanging with cool people."

Comments on the site were mixed when it came to the actual quality of the brownies, but High Times posted a bit of a warning: following his instructions would just mean you're wasting a lot of pot. It all has to do with how it's prepared, and connoisseurs say that since Batali skipped a major step in the process, his attempt at creating the pot brownie recipe to end all other pot brownie recipes fell completely flat.

Mario Batali considers cooking Obama's last state dinner the height of his career

October 18, 2016 was President Obama's final state dinner at the White House. According to Eater, it was Michelle Obama who chose Batali to take charge of the food, and when he was asked how long he had been preparing for it, he responded, "56 years."

Batali's choice wasn't a random one. He's been a longtime support of Michelle Obama's Let's Move campaign, and since the guests of honor were the prime minister of Italy and his wife, the choice was a logical one. Two months of planning went into the dinner, which included things like sweet potatoes, steak, and broccoli. The First Family had requested Italian dishes that were a huge part of American culture, made with American ingredients. Cooking for the President might seem super-stressful, but it was the opinions of Sasha and Malia that he was most concerned about. "Kids are the ones who tell you exactly how it is, so yes, we'll see what they think."

And yes, he still wore his orange Crocs.

Mario Batali revealed some of his favorite ingredients and dishes

It's a chef's job to make everything taste amazing, so it's easy to forget that someone like Batali has his favorites, too. Munchies put him to the test in 2016, inviting him into their rooftop garden and asking him to pick out whatever caught his eye. When it came to leafy produce, he admitted that arugula was his favorite, reminiscing about the arugula that grew "wild in the cracks of the sidewalk" in Naples. And as far as other veggies, he singled out the beets as being what he called "unsung heroes" because of their versatility and because you can use every part of the plant for something special. For Batali, that includes his favorite kind of raviolis: those made with beets (like in his recipe here).

Pop Sugar asked him to spill the details on his favorite foods, and he gave the very non-committal answer of whatever is local, fresh, and in season. When pressed for his favorite way to prepare chicken, he admitted that it was chicken alla saltimbocca, pounded thin and made with prosciutto and sage — and you can find the recipe here.

Mario Batali spends a huge amount of down time playing golf

Everyone needs their down time, and according to what Batali told Bloomberg, his down time is filled with golf. He plays an estimated 45 rounds of golf in summer alone, and says, "One of the things about my job is that I spend a lot of time in small, hot rooms surrounded by a lot of people. For me, going out on the golf course is a remarkable, spiritual, cleansing thing."

His job gives him access to some of the best courses in the world. He's played on the same courses that hold international tournaments, but his favorite spot of all doesn't have nearly the name recognition as those places: It's in Waterville, Ireland, and he describes it as "a shack and a track." It's the low-key aspect of it that makes it his favorite, and he says he's just as low-maintenance when it comes to his equipment... but his shoes are orange. He puts this hobby to good use, and Golf Digest reported on the tournaments that raised money to support his own charity, which in turn went to further his mission of keeping children "well read, well fed, and well cared for."

Mario Batali is pushing people to be smart about food waste

Batali isn't shy about his pet peeve — it's food waste. About 40 percent of the world's food is wasted, and when he spoke with The LA Times, he gave some insight into making a positive impact on the world's food supply. That includes everything from practicing nose-to-tail cooking to asking for smaller portion sizes at a restaurant so you're not throwing out any of your dinner.

He's also trying to raise awareness of the world's problematic obsession with perfect vegetables, telling outlets like Food 52 how important it is to realize vegetables and fruits don't have to be perfectly formed to taste good. He says about 6 billion pounds of fruit and veg go to waste every year in the US alone, and that's unthinkable. In addition to buying non-perfect fruit and veggies, he also says buying local and buying what's in season can go a long way toward cutting back on food waste.

Batali practices what he preaches, too, and he's teamed up with Dogfish Head Craft Brewery and Sam Calagione to create a beer called WasteNot. It's made from "waste" food like stale bread and overripe tomatoes, and it was on tap at big-city restaurants across the country. That's one way to raise awareness, for sure!

Sexual misconduct allegations have been filed against Mario Batali

In October 2017, an employee lodged the first formal complaint about Batali. According to Eater, he was reprimanded and sent to training, but in the following months more people started coming forward with accusations of inappropriate behavior, both at and outside of work. One woman claimed Batali cornered her in a small room, forcing her to climb over him to escape. Others called him a "bully" and "an awful person." 

Accusations of sexual misconduct go back to the 1990s, and both employees and former employees have come forward to claim they were targets of Batali's unwanted advances. Other former coworkers have corroborated their stories. While Batali & Bastianich Hospitality Group and partner Joe Bastianich condemned the actions and reiterated a commitment to providing a safe work environment for their employees, Batali didn't make any denials.

Batali's statement said (in part), "I apologize to the people I have mistreated and hurt. ... much of the behavior described does, in fact, match up with ways I have acted. That behavior was wrong and there are no excuses. I take full responsibility and am deeply sorry..."

As a result of the accusations, he was asked to leave The Chew, and took a leave of absence from his other business endeavors. 

In May of 2018, the NYPD announced they were conducting an investigation of the accusations, but that investigation was closed in January 2019 with no charges filed. According to CNN, only one of the two cases being investigated was within the statute of limitations, and the NYPD was unable to find probable cause for either of the cases.

In March 2019, Batali officially dissolved his restaurant partnerships.