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Buford portrays Batali in other earthy moments--spitting on a cooktop at a Nashville, Tenn., benefit dinner (apparently to prove the cooktop was hot); asking Babbo's wine director for "two more bottles, along with your two best Mexican prostitutes"; snoring his way through a 5 a.m. taxi ride after a night out. But Heat is also a portrait of a talent who worked his way from a dishwasher in college to a small-time Greenwich Village cook to America's impresario of all foods Italian. On that Nashville trip, 32 local chefs showed up to volunteer to cook with Batali. (Batali's influence can also be seen in the crudo sensation in New York City and L.A.--crudo being Italian-style raw fish, brightly flavored and very pricey. And Batali has inspired top chefs like Michael Symon of Cleveland, Ohio, to begin curing meats in-house to develop their flavors more idiosyncratically.) As for Heat, Batali waves off "the stupid s___" he does in the book--"can't do anything about it"--and jokes that Philip Seymour Hoffman is "the only one of size" who could play him in the rumored film adaptation.
Mario Francesco Batali was born Mario Francis Batali in 1960. He Italianized the middle name in college--"I hated Francis," he says--but he's only half Italian. Batali's mother Marilyn is of Canadian and English heritage. His father Armandino, a former Boeing executive who has his own bustling restaurant in Seattle, is the Italian one. Batali grew up in Washington State and then, after Boeing transferred his father, in Spain. Batali has two siblings, Dana and Gina, and Marilyn Batali says she requested that each child prepare one meal a week. "At some point, we also began having international days where they were required to have something weird," she recalls. (That may explain her son's fondness for items like duck testicles, an ingredient in one of the dishes at Del Posto, a $12 million Manhattan restaurant he opened in December with Bastianich and PBS chef Lidia Matticchio Bastianich, Joseph's mother.)
Although a great peddler of excess, Batali first became famous for his restraint in the kitchen, his veneration of simple Italian traditions. After graduating from Rutgers University, where he majored in economics and Spanish theater, Batali worked in kitchens in Britain, California and Turkey, where he was a yacht chef. ("Very good gig. Paid well. Virtually no responsibility. You get some rich yuppie group of six from Chicago paying $60,000 for a week on a boat. They would tip you a thousand bucks at the end of the week if they were happy. Which was enough to live in Bodrum for six months.") But his formative cooking experience was apprenticing for no pay at La Volta, a trattoria in the tiny town of Borgo Capanne, Italy.