Batali the Home Boy

TV chef Mario Batali invites F&W into his big, new, kid-friendly kitchen, where he makes teddy bear pancakes for his sons and cooks the family-style Italian recipes that will appear in his next book.

    By Charlotte Druckman

Celebrity chef Mario Batali is a big guy with a big presence— and a big guy with a big presence needs a big kitchen. When he and his wife, Susi Cahn, combined and remodeled two apartments in Manhattan, he says, "the single most important thing we did was take as much room for the kitchen as we could." That nearly 200-square-foot U, larger than the kitchens at many of his New York City restaurants (Lupa, Esca, Casa Mono) contains a 10-by-3-foot peninsula, where Batali and his two sons, 8-year-old Benno and 6-year-old Leo, make pizza and pastas with their friends. The 6-foot space between the peninsula and the stove is unusually wide, so two people can work back to back without bumping into each other. Mario also wanted a big counter, which invariably becomes a stage. "He's even informative when he's cooking at home," says interior designer Lisa Eaton, Cahn's cousin. Eaton, who advised the family on the kitchen, has consulted on several of Batali's restaurants, including the famous Babbo; his most recent venture, Bistro du Vent; and Il Posto, which will open in April and serve regional Italian classics like agnolotti presented Piedmont-style, with a bowl of truffles and butter on the side.

Other than demanding the outsize counter, though, Batali says he let Cahn have her way on a lot of decisions: "She got everything she wanted, and I got most of what I wanted." On Batali's abandoned wish list? "The pizza oven didn't fly. Neither did the spit roaster over the stove," he says. "I wanted a meat slicer that would come out of the counter when you pushed a button, but that would've been totally unsafe for the kids."

The sink remains in its original position, in front of a window that overlooks Otto. Added on are a pantry and a walk-in refrigerated wine-storage room that's roughly five feet wide and six feet long (though Batali wishes it were even bigger and that it were integrated into the kitchen instead of down the hall). There's also an office for Cahn just off the dining area, a study where she can do marketing for Coach Dairy Goat Farm, her family's business, and still peek out and see what the boys are up to in the kitchen.

The kids got their own space: undercounter refrigerator drawers stocked with drinks and healthy snacks like Yo-Goat yogurt. And the materials and finishes in the kitchen are kid-friendly. "I love that slate-tiled floor," Batali says. "It never looks dirty no matter what you do to it." The aquamarine paint on the maple cabinets, in addition to brightening the room, hides fingerprints better than light colors do.

Another advantage of a big kitchen is abundant storage space. The ample drawers under the peninsula hold pots and pans in a single layer (no need to stack them), plus there's a narrow slide-out shelf for lids. Other drawers hold plastic storage containers—the bottoms in one drawer, the tops in another above it. But not everything gets put away. Says Batali, "The things I use all the time have to be out by the stove—extra-virgin olive oil, salt and pepper, some sort of acidity, like a balsamic or red wine vinegar—because I use these whenever I cook, even at breakfast."

According to Batali, a typical moment in the kitchen might be something like this: "Susi is in her office, making calls and trying to figure out the world. Benno and Leo are with me, stirring or chopping—depending on what we're making—or yelling about not having a job to do. And I'm always in charge of the food." Home cooking inspires his forthcoming cookbook, which will be a comprehensive collection of recipes from all over Italy, such as chicken thighs filled with fresh herbs and cheese, and a rolled meat loaf stuffed with spinach, carrots and prosciutto.

Cahn doesn't cook much, but every year, for Batali's birthday, she bakes an orange sunshine cake, with buttercream frosting and canned Mandarin orange segments. It seems only fitting that a man whose children describe orange as "the Batali national color" would love such a cake. But that raises a question about the kitchen. Why blue-green for the cabinets? "You can't have orange all the time," Batali points out. "It looks like you're trying too hard. Besides, blue-green looks really good with orange."

The wine pairings come from Joe Bastianich, Mario Batali's business partner, who consults on the wine lists at their restaurants.

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Published November 2004

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