Review: Restaurateur's book has bitter aftertaste
"Restaurant Man" (Viking), by Joe Bastianich
Saturday, May 12, 2012
Joe Bastianich knows Italian food. The restaurant partner of celebrity chef Mario Batali and the son of Lidia Bastianich, the star of several public television cooking shows, he grew up around meatballs and marinara.
In "Restaurant Man," Bastianich chronicles his life in the restaurant business, from working at his parents' Italian restaurant in the New York City borough of Queens to his success as a winemaker and restaurateur.
Viewers of the reality television show "MasterChef" know Bastianich as the most jaded and acerbic of the show's three judges. He's much the same in his book except he's now free to curse, which he does almost as punctuation.
Between expletives, Bastianich dishes dirt about the business: Some restaurants dilute expensive Parmesan cheese with less costly knockoffs, desserts are almost pure profit, and no bottle of wine costs more than $5 to make.
Bastianich also tells some interesting stories, particularly for diners who know the New York City restaurants he and Batali opened, including Babbo, Del Posto and Esca. He talks about spilling a drop of wine on the pope during a visit to New York in 2008 and former President Bill Clinton, who would "stop traffic" when he got up to use the restroom.
Mostly, however, Bastianich's stories make him sound like a jerk. He says Mexicans are the hardest-working restaurant employees but Ecuadorians and Peruvians generally have "more culinary aptitude." He once stole flowers from a church cemetery to bring to a legendary chef of Roman cuisine. He claims that if you tell him what restaurants you frequent, he has a good idea of how much money you make.
Readers also have to wade through some score-settling. Bastianich has less than nice things to say about one wine importer, a genius gelato maker and people in the fashion business. He trashes a critic who gave one of his restaurants a bad review, calling the man a "puffed-up real-estate columnist who moonlights as a restaurant critic."
Of course, diners don't care if Bastianich is a jerk as long as he delivers delicious food. And the starred reviews of his restaurants prove he does. But his memoir is different. It has a sour edge, a distinct bitterness, and readers may not have the appetite for that.
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