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Fame & Fortune: TV chef Mario Batali

Business grad swapped portfolio theory for pasta
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Bankrate: So you were a money guy, interested in working in money?

Batali: Yeah, I was! I also got a degree in business administration, portfolio theory.

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Bankrate:  Were you even remotely interested in cooking at the time?

Batali:  Not a chance. I was really excited about returning to America and going to a full-on four-year university, and I'm really glad I did. Even for cooks, to this day when people ask me what to do, I say get yourself an excellent liberal arts education and then learn how to cook and you'll be a much better person for it.

Bankrate: The business background must have helped you put together your restaurants and media career.

Batali: Oh, absolutely. But I would say there is very little in my macroeconomics classes that I apply to anything that I do in real life. I've never found a marginal revenue curve in any of my operations!

Bankrate: So how did the cooking factor in?

Batali: Well, it's something that's really fun to do and it's also immediately satisfying. There are no long-term projects -- other than curing your own meats and making wine. You know, within about an hour, whether the customer or person you were feeding was particularly appreciative of it or not.

Bankrate: And you can at least feed yourself during the so-called salad years.

Batali: Exactly. It beats all the other jobs because you're always going to eat something good. The family meals are always pretty darn tasty.

Bankrate: Were you immediately drawn to Italian cuisine because of your heritage?

Batali: Absolutely. My grandma, my uncles, my aunts, we all ate either Italian or West Coast food all of my life. Everybody that I knew growing up, my parents, my brother, my sister, was interested and involved in cooking every day.

Bankrate: You actually spent a few years cooking in an Italian village, right?

Batali: Yes. It was the best experience of my life. I was 28. I'd already been the highest paid sous-chef for the Four Seasons at that time in California. I worked at The Clift in San Francisco and The Biltmore in Santa Barbara, two great properties.

Bankrate: Did you have your sights set on becoming a celebrity chef?

Batali: Never. I kind of fell into it. There had been Graham Kerr, Julia Child, Jacques Pepin and Martin Yan, and then The Food Network kind of invented itself in the early 1990s and Emeril Lagasse became the king and everyone else kind of followed the lead and now there's a lot. It's pretty crazy.

 
 
Next: "I looked pretty goofy, but I was passionate about it. ..."
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