Sunday, August 06, 2006

Mario in Michigan

Star Chef Splits his time, some "up here".

Just spotted a piece that ran in Detroit Free Press back on July 26th

Get 11 friends and your checkbook

High bid: Lunch Up North with star chef

July 26, 2006

It isn't for the faint of heart, stomach or pocketbook, but superstar chef Mario Batali is offering to cook with you and 11 of your friends Up North next month, if you're the high bidder in a charity auction.

Uber restaurateur, Food Network icon, author of best-selling cookbooks and last year's James Beard Foundation chef of the year, the pony-tailed Batali and his family -- wife, Susi, and sons Benno, 9, and Leo, 8 -- have a home near Northport on the Leelanau Peninsula. The Aug. 27 afternoon cooking lesson, wine tasting and multi-course lunch is a fund-raiser for the Leelanau Conservancy, a group dedicated to land preservation in the area.

This is the second event he's done for the group; the first one went for $25,000.

"It was fabulous -- one of those events of a lifetime," said Mary Loveless of Omena, a guest of the winning bidders, who did not want to be named. "Mario was just so much fun -- fun and funny and gracious."

This year, according to the Conservancy Web site at , the meal featuring "the bounty of the Leelanau Peninsula" will start at 1 p.m. "and continue until the Roman mindset is achieved."

With the bidding finale set for next week, we caught up with Batali at his Up North home and peppered him with questions about the event and his life in Michigan.

Here's what he had to say:

Question: I understand you recently did a charity dinner for your child's school that went for $52,000. How many of these events do you usually do a year, and why are you doing this one for the Leelanau Conservancy?

Answer: This one is a lunch, but I do dinners of this variety between six and 10 times a year, and they all go for around that range. But I did one with Emeril that went for $150,000. It's a case of having the right people involved -- and they'll drop that money anyway. As for why I'm doing this one, we spend a substantial amount of our time here and all our holidays. I think it's a remarkably beautiful place that needs to be protected.

Q: If my friends and I scrape up several thousand dollars to win this event, what can we expect?

A: It's Roman cooking at its best. And it's hands-on participation to the extent that someone wants it to be. They could just sit there if they want to and let me cook, but last year's group got down and got into it. We'll have a lot of wine, little artichokes, fava beans, saltimbocca ... There'll be 10 courses, each in small portions, prepared on the spot -- and everything will be fresh.

Q: Can you describe "the Roman mindset"?

A: That of running the world, likely intoxicated, and (being) deliriously happy.

Q: And they say money can't buy happiness ...

A: But you can certainly trade some cash for a few moments of it.

Q: What's the difference between living in Manhattan and living in Northport?

A: (Laughs.) Well, let's put it this way: You can drive slow in Northport. You don't have any stop lights ... well, no, there's one blinking light in Northport. There are no taxis. Everything's over at midnight, and nobody minds.

Those are some of the crucial differences.

Q: How'd you end up there?

A: My wife went to college at the U of M. We started coming out to visit some of her friends about eight years ago. We stayed one week, and the next year we stayed two weeks. And then three weeks, and then five. And then the guy whose house we had been renting decided to move up here. So we started looking around at places, and at that point, we decided to buy.

Q: So you go in winter, too?

A: We come at Christmas and Thanksgiving, and last year at Thanksgiving we had a beautiful snow. It was just like being in a beautiful snow globe. I hadn't realized it, but the lake effect makes the snow just float around. We were here for five days, and it was just magnificent.

Q: What's your favorite thing to do up there? Do you have a garden? Make wine? Fish for walleye? Read paperbacks? Write more cookbooks?

A: All of the above, but I do have a wood-burning pizza oven in my backyard overlooking Lake Michigan. So making pizza out there may be my favorite thing to do here. It makes my children very happy, and it makes me happy.

Q: What's a typical night on the Leelanau Peninsula for you and your family?

A: The other night we went on a big boat ride -- drove across to the other side of Grand Traverse Bay, looked at Eastport and rode around, dragged the kids on an inner tube, and then we went to my friends Barbara and Lee's house, and they made barbecue chicken and peach and raspberry cobbler.

Q: Does anyone up there invite you over for dinner?

A: Well, sure -- Barbara and Lee do! (Barbara Nelson-Jameson is a close friend of Susi's from college and a member of the Conservancy board.)

Q: By now, do you consider yourself a Michigander?

A: I am definitely, ... particularly in the summer. But I still honk my horn every now and then, so I must be a New Yorker.

And here's coverage from the TC Record-Eagle
A buddy in the kitchen: Batali repeats offer to cook as fundraiser prize


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