The Robb Reader: Joe Bastianich
A conversation with the restaurateur, winemaker, MasterChef judge, and Italophile.
Joe Bastianich has been selling Americans a slice of la dolce vita since 1993, when he opened Becco in New York City. The son of chef Lidia Bastianich and the business partner of chef Mario Batali, he now owns 25 restaurants around the world, including New York’s Babbo and Del Posto, as well as the Eataly food emporiums in New York and Chicago, and a winery in Friuli, Italy. We caught up with Bastianich while he was in Los Angeles taping the fifth season of MasterChef with his fellow judge Gordon Ramsay.
You are one of the fittest men in the food world. Are you still doing triathlons?
I’m doing Kona in October. When you train for a triathlon, you do a “brick,” which means you ride and then you run right afterward. When I don’t have much time, I do a mini-brick, like today—I did an hour spin class and then seven miles on the treadmill. Gordon [Ramsay] and I are training for Kona together, and this Sunday we’ll do a full brick, which is a 56-mile bike ride and then a 13-mile run.
When did you start running?
In 2006. I started very slowly—I ran to lose weight—and I got hooked. In a life where I really don’t have much private time, it’s my meditation. It’s when I think about my life and what I have to do. It’s also a very big moderator. It causes me to live in a very specific way, and—being the compulsive person that I am—it’s what I need. It’s very useful to have long-term athletic goals that I need to adhere to, in order to keep everything buttoned up.
You live in Italy, New York, and Los Angeles. How do you get the most out of each place?
You take them for what they are. In L.A., it’s all about the weather for me. I’ll go ride my bike on the Pacific Coast Highway, and you know what I do in L.A. that I don’t do any other place? I go to brunch. It’s a big brunch town. I’ll go to the local coffee places, to the Soho House, to Eveleigh.
I shoot MasterChef Italia May to September in Milan. My family has a winery in Friuli, and I travel around quite a bit as well. I love Italy. I love that part of my life. I have a boat in the portside city of Grado—a Beaver 9-meter Picnic launch, a Dutch mahogany boat from the 1950s. I’ve been restoring it for the past five years, and it’s beautiful, like a floating antique. This summer will be the first season on my own boat, though I’ve done my fair share of boating in Italy. We’ve always chartered boats and done Croatia and the coast, gone for lunch in Venice.
New York is my hometown. It’s the city that makes me come alive as a businessperson and a creative person. Being a lifelong New Yorker, I consider it mine. I’m very proprietary about New York.
We hear you have an unusual collection.
I have a great antique meat-slicer collection—probably one of the biggest in the world. I started 20 years ago. I was at a friend’s restaurant in Trieste, and I saw one and I had to have it. Now, probably I have 40 or 50 Berkel slicers. They’re in my restaurants, in storage, in my house, in my kitchen, in my garage, in the winery. They’re everywhere.
Why meat slicers?
They’re the ultimate food gadget. They’re very mechanical. They’re beauty that renders food more delicious.
You also have a budding Ferrari collection.
I have two vintage Ferraris, and I’m getting a third. It’s a very recent passion for me. They’re from the ’50s and early ’60s—a fantastic era. These are much more expensive and much more difficult to deal with than the new ones, trust me.
What is it about that era’s designs that attracts you?
I’m a bit nostalgic about the postwar era in Italy, because my parents were immigrants and I’m attracted to the kind of art and beauty that came from Italy at that time, in film and music, engineering, cars—everything from that period. That’s something that’s very close to me.