Mario Batali spends all his time on Twitter – so where has he found the time to star in a TV show, write nine cookbooks, establish a charitable foundation, open dozens of restaurants, and…cook? An intimate chat with the unique New York culinary impresario as part of Fast Company’s Innovation Uncensored 2013 event, 23-24 April in NYC.
Fast Company: Management’s probably a big deal. You’re not cooking in the kitchen anymore. Does social media help?
Batali: I do all the social media myself. I find it enjoyable. I choose the ones I want to answer, I involve myself in it. It’s quite delightful to RT the snarky ones untouched. I let my fan base respond to them. We don’t take anything too lightly, but we also don’t take ourselves too seriously.
If we get negativity about the food, I always suggest to people that they talk to someone *in person* while they’re in the restaurant.
Fast Company: How are you able to be creativity in a era of Cool Ranch Doritos Tacos?
Batali: Sometimes renovation is innovation. But putting things in terms that people don’t recognize anymore is innovation. Just rename something and people love it again. We don’t think about it this way. Sometimes we take a classic dish, and renovate it. We also try to focus on things when they’re in season. For our innovation to exist, we need to actually go *back* to when we’re eating in season.
Fast Company: Explain the sustainability myth.
Batali: You can’t just use things up until we were done with it. It doesn’t work that way. So it doesn’t work if you just use things responsibly, others will follow in-kind. We need to move our menu around when crops move around. High prices don’t necessarily mean highest quality. It’s supply and demand. Look at the Blue Fin Tuna.
Fast Company: Is there food rule breaking that you have to do to be innovative?
Batali: There are some people who think if you’re making a dish from Parma, you have to get all of your ingredients from Parma. But if you’re in Parma, you’re dealing with people making dishes because they’re so proud of Parma they just aren’t going to take anything from elsewhere. But we don’t think that way either.
Fast Company: What about running a business? Rule breaking?
Batali: We try to follow all the *legal* rules. But at one restaurant we played Bob Marley and Led Zeppelin, and staffers didn’t think we were ever going to get top marks because of it. But we wanted to do something that made us happy. Now the stars are based on more than just the food. That’s rule breaking. There are a lot of new experiences now that are, frankly, uncomfortable, but the food is great. What’s important to you in that experience?
Fast Company: What is it that chefs can teach marketers about experience?
Batali: Each customer let’s you know by the end of their consumption how well it went – how much they eat. We operate our restaurants as little startups. They’re run specifically by the operator, all of them who’ve worked with us for a long time. They can respond on site.
Fast Company: If today’s Mario could whisper something in the ear of the younger dishwasher Mario’s ear, what would it be?
Batali: Keep your head down, work hard, and listen to the people around you because they know more than you.