The State of Food: 10 Key Learnings From Mario Batali's Talk at Recode
The celebrity chef just wants to feed you.
Celebrity chef, restaurateur, and entrepreneur Mario Batali took to the stage at Recode's Code Commerce event today to weigh in on everything from robot-made pizzas to maggot-infested cheese—and which he prefers. Here are the ten biggest takeaways:
1. Being on TV doesn't make you a celebrity chef: Batali says that a connection to the viewer is what a makes a true celebrity chef. He lists Emeril Lagasse and Wolfgang Puck as two chefs whose skills can, like great pop songs, "mine into something that's already in your primordial brain."
2. How To Use Social Media: Batali uses Twitter less as marketing tool than as a place to discuss (and fight) about things. Instagram is to "show how happiness can be recognized," YouTube is for free content that works as promotion, and Snapchat he's too old to understand.
3. His top technologies: For Batali's restaurants, new technology is best used for logistical tasks like managing inventory. At 2 a.m., Batali gets a comprehensive report on all his businesses from software called Avero, and uses OpenTable to manage booking at his restaurants.
4. But cooking stays old school: Batali doesn't have any problem with new technologies that make techniques like sous vide and reverse searing easier—they're just not for him. "I still use fire to cook my food," he says, "I like crust on my meat."
5. Dining is about people: Not a fan of the trend towards automated dining, Batali says that "the ultimate luxury is not the lack of humans, but that there are humans there." He doesn't see this changing any time soon, either.
6. Minimum wage: Batali says he is "completely for everybody in America making $100,000 a year" but is cautious about the long-term effects of raising minimum wage in the low-margin restaurant industry. He cites anecdotal evidence about 30% price increases, but no comprehensive studies.
7. America's food waste is out of control: We grow enough food to feed North, Central, and South America every day, says Batali, but throw away 41 percent of it. While there are many fronts to address, he discusses hopes that fast food companies, which serve more people than any other restaurants in the world, could work to find better ways to "harness the energy potential" of all that waste.
8. Ancient Bugs > New Gadgets: "Novelty and newness to me isn't nearly as exciting as something time tested," Batali sums up his attitude towards technology and food. Proving he means it, he adds that "what has fascinated [him] the most this year was an ancient recipe using a cheese that still has live maggots crawling around in it in Sicily."
9. Amazon buying Whole Foods is "a great thing": While he says Amazon doesn't necessarily "have everyone's best interests in mind," the short term benefit of their Whole Foods purchase will mean lower prices and increased access to Whole Foods products, which he thinks is a "great thing."
10. He just wants to feed you: "I tolerate any level of asshole at my restaurant," Batali says of those who might disagree with him politically (though hopefully that doesn't include the kind that makes staff miserable). It all comes from the simple core of his food philosophy: "we just want to make you happier by giving you something delicious to eat."