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Mario BataliFame & Fortune: TV chef Mario Batali

Business grad swapped portfolio theory for pasta

Celebrity chef Mario Batali loves Italian cooking, and it shows.

With his flaming red ponytail, shorts-for-all-seasons and trademark orange garden clogs, the lively, rotund host of the Food Network's "Molto Mario" and "Ciao America" brings an operatic flair to everything he does, whether he's whipping up a frenzied Tuscan fantasy against the clock on "Iron Chef America," dry-rubbing a rack of ribs for a NASCAR tailgating party or touring to promote one of his six best-selling cookbooks.

Batali comes by his theatricality naturally. A native of Seattle, Batali attended high school in Madrid, Spain, and studied the golden age of Spanish theater at Rutgers University. Following graduation, he briefly attended the famed Le Cordon Bleu in London, hated it, and instead embarked on an apprenticeship that included the Four Seasons in San Francisco and three years of intensive study in the tiny Italian village of Borgo Capanne under legendary chef Marco Pierre White.
         
Passionate about pasta, Batali returned to New York City and turned up the heat on the foodie circuit by opening a string of wildly successful restaurants -- including his Greenwich Village flagship Babbo -- Po, Lupa, Esca and his new baby, Del Posto.
         
The Food Network was quick to tap Batali, whose larger-than-life persona is matched only by his dedication to the history and science of great cuisine. Where other TV chefs strive to entertain, Batali seeks to educate his audience; little wonder many of his fans are chefs themselves.
         
Batali's star continues to rise. Last year, the James Beard Foundation named him "Best Chef in America." This year, he's expanding his $65 million restaurant empire beyond the boroughs with the opening of Del Latte on Los Angeles' chic Melrose Avenue and two eateries at The Venetian in Las Vegas. When he's home, he helps wife Susi Cahn of Coach Dairy Goat Farm raise their two sons Benno and Leo.
         
Hard to believe this superchef once had his heart set on a career in banking. That's just one of the surprises Batali shared with Bankrate.

Bankrate: Did you start out in restaurant work in high school?

Batali: No, my first job was in college. I went to high school in Madrid, Spain, so there was no opportunity for employment, which was nice. I got my college degree in Spanish theater.

Bankrate: Did you envision a life in the arts or academics?

Batali: What I really wanted was to be a wealthy banker based in Spain. I had fallen in love with the expat lifestyle because my father worked for Boeing and we moved over there. I thought I could go into banking and go back to Spain and live for a long time, that was kind of the angle I was going to use.

 
 
Next: "... learn how to cook and you'll be a much better person for it."
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