When I discovered the Food Network channel, I was scared of the kitchen but still a food lover. I watched because I loved watching food! I began with shows like Rachael Ray's 30 Minute Meals. While she isn't exactly a gourmet chef (I know you are all thinking "How dare I mention her name and the word "chef" in the same sentence") she has some quick and easy ideas that I was turned onto as a novice in the kitchen. As I got more practice and became more aware of the food I was putting into my mouth, I progressed into different shows and onto different, and more professional chefs. Recipes that Emeril or Wolfgang Puck made were no longer simply food entertainment, I realized I may actually be able to DO some of them! Mario Batali was one of my favorites. His recipes were elegant, yet he used simple, fresh ingredients that I felt I could actually tackle. When Food Network switched Molto Mario to the Fine Living Network, I switched over too (thankfully right during the increasingly-annoying 30 Minute Meals show).
Food Network Fans site I emailed Daniel right away and told him I was going! Of course he wanted to go with me... he scheduled himself for a long lunch and that was that! Mario's book Italian Grill is filled with wonderfully simple Italian recipes that are great for grilling or going with grilled food. The book is divided into sections including Antipasti, with recipes such as Radicchio in Pancetta with Pears and Balsamic Vinegar, and Grilled Polenta. The Pizza & Flatbreads section is filled with rustic breads and dough recipes you can use on the grill with or without a piastra (a slab of granite placed on the grill). Other sections include Fish & Shellfish, Poultry, Meat, and Vegetables. He also included an Ingredients and Techniques section that is very helpful if you aren't familiar with the lesser known Italian terms and ingredients. Each recipe has a little tip or a comment by him at the bottom of the page that gives it his personal touch. It's very Batali. After reading through the whole book and gazing at the pictures with food-lust in my eyes, I couldn't wait to have Mario Batali's signature in it.
Since Daniel got a long lunch we wanted to be there early. The booksigning was to be held at Sur La Table in Kierland Commons, a very sophisticated residence/shopping center that located across the way from the Weston Kierland Resort in Scottsdale, Arizona. We got there 30 minutes before the event's official start time, there were about 20 people in line already. The line filled up quickly though, and couples (including Daniel and I) were taking turns going over to the fountain area to see if he had arrived for the Question & Answer section yet. He arrived about a half hour late... who knows why. But I expect that from anyone as busy as he must be.
He was sporting his signature shorts, fleece vest, and, of course, his orange Crocs. He was articulate and expressive about his book, explaining a bit about it and telling us his inspirations for the recipes.
After the explanation and a short Q&A he came over for the book signing. The line had filled considerably by then and was being herded through the shop doors. He was already in the back of the store, with cameras and security crowded round.
As we made our way through the shop I had to fight several urges to buy the shiny cookware and gourmet gadgets. We made our way around to the table Batali was at and here... my very first celebrity meeting happened! I hardly knew it was happening before it was over, it's pathetic really, how surreal it was for me. He took our book and began signing, asking us "How's it going guys?" He noticed the camera in my hands and asked if we wanted a picture with him. Daniel went right over and an assistant reached for my camera. I handed it to her as I hesitated getting THAT close to someone as esteemed (in my eyes) as Mario Batali. He smiled at me and invited me with a wave, "Come on over, I won't bite!" So Daniel and I each took a side and before I knew it the flash went off and Daniel was shaking his hand saying thanks. We walked away, eager to look at the book and see his prized signature. (And make it back to Daniel's work in time!)
I've heard so many rumors and bad things about Mario Batali, but the truth is, I think he is one of Food Network/Fine Living's best. The Food Network has pursued their amateur audience so much that they have lost their great key chefs like Puck, Lagasse, and of course Batali. I'm not saying that filling the needs of their viewers is a bad thing, but beginners and amateurs like me can still learn things from these great chefs.
I will, of course, continue to learn from and watch Mario Batali. Meeting him has only made me like him more, and my enthusiasm for his cooking has grown. When we make one of his recipes our readers will be the first to know. I'm sure we won't be disappointed.