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A Conversation With Celebrity Chef Mario Batali

Jill is an award-winning food and entertainment critic. She's attended red carpet events and theatre and restaurant openings.

Mario Batali's "BIG American Cookbook"

Mario Batali's "BIG American Cookbook"

Mario Batali: Author of BIG American Cookbook

Recently, Mario Batali spoke for over one hour during a one-on-one discussion with Los Angeles Times food editor and columnist Russ Parsons. In front of a large crowd of foodies and fans, Batali shared that he has been collecting recipes from people all over America for the past 18 years. “I always think about food while on a long drive,” Batali told us.

While on book tours over the years, Batali visited big cities and small towns throughout America. He would ask bookstore owners and grocery store clerks where the best dining spots are located in the town. “I like to eat food at a local state fair or diner,” Batali said, “much more than in an elegant restaurant.” These local spots are evocative of the town and the immigration of people who come to live in the town or city.

He compiled 250 of his favorite recipes for home cooks to prepare for their families and friends. They are simple dishes broken into different regions in America. These recipes bring successful results to cooks of every level.

President Barak Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama's Last Supper

First Lady Michelle Obama requested that Mario Batali cook the last state dinner of the Obama era, honoring Prime Minister Matteo Renzi of Italy.

At the Pasadena book signing of his new book Mario Batali: BIG American Cookbook, he shared his recent White House experience. "Chefs aren’t allowed to prepare or bring ingredients to the White House," said Batali. He went on to tell us that he wanted to make an Italian dish with the essence of American, so he made Agnolotti: an elegant ravioli made from small pieces of flattened pasta dough, filled and folded over.

Batali cooks within an Italian framework and then makes it his own. “We had long prep shifts, before cooking the agnolotti pasta al dente and putting it in a hot box at 165 degrees."

Then they rolled it down to the dining tent on the South Lawn of the White House where a candlelit dinner was set for the President and the First Lady with over 400 other guests. “I tricked it out to work by blanching the pasta and shocking it,” said Batali. “I drizzled a little olive oil and then made a brown butter with sage sauce." He and his team had to prepare over 400 plates in 7 minutes.

“From the minute the President’s first-course plate is placed on the table, then the First Lady Michelle's, the delivery continues to the Prime Minister, and to the last guest,” Batali said. “As soon as the President is finished with his first course, every other guest’s plate is removed. If you are the 420th person at the table, you may have only had one bite.”

Mario Batali and guest at book signing in Pasadena, CA

Mario Batali and guest at book signing in Pasadena, CA

Nancy Silverton: Queen of Deliciousness

Battle calls one of Los Angeles's favorite chefs, Nancy Silverton, the “Queen of Deliciousness.” He and Joseph Bastianich were happy to unite with Silverton to open the Monza Empire in Los Angeles with Monza, Pizzeria Mozza, and Chi Spacca along Highland and Melrose Avenue. The Obamas stopped at Mozza to dine for dinner while on a trip to LA.

Battle and Bastianich give equity partnership to professional chefs who approach him about opening a new restaurant. "Their ownership is crucial to the success of the restaurant,” believes Batali.

Before the book signing event, Batali chatted with Jimmy Kimmel on his show pitching the Big American Cookbook. After the book signing event, Batali got into a car to go to Mozza for agnolotti with white truffles and a glass of Italian Bolla. Mozza is one of the only Los Angeles restaurants with white truffles right now. "They are expensive, but worth every bite," said Batali.

Mario Batali

Mario Batali

Working on The Chew

Someone told Mario Batali that working on The Chew would be career suicide. He proved that person wrong.

“We would have never chosen each other as roommates in college, however after 5 years of success, we are good housemates," Mario said of Co-Hosts Carla Hall, Michael Symon, Daphne Oz, and Clinton Kelly.

He loves working on the show. A highlight was when they filmed at Epcot and Mickey Mouse showed up. The Chew is an ABC Show owned by Disney.

Favorite Recipe in the Book

When Russ Parsons asked Mario Batali what is the first recipe that comes to mind featured in his new cookbook, Batali said, "The Gooey Butter Cake I found in St. Louis."

In the book, he says It's more a coffee cake than a dessert and has more goo than anything else. I went home a made a pan of this cake. It's a two-step process. First, you make the cake, which is almost like a dense tart. Next, you make the top, which is gooey and good. I topped each slice of my cake with fresh strawberries and blueberries and a little creme fraiche. Whipped cream or a scoop of ice cream enhances it too. Here it is for you to make at home.

Gooey butter cake featured in "Mario Batali: BIG American Cookbook"

Gooey butter cake featured in "Mario Batali: BIG American Cookbook"

Gooey Butter Cake

Prep timeCook timeReady inYields

20 min

45 min

1 hour 5 min

10 to 12 servings


  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 8 ounces cream cheese for the goo, softened
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter for the goo, softened
  • 2 cups confectioner's sugar for the goo
  • 2 large eggs, beaten for the goo
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract


  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9" x 13" baking pan with cooking spray.
  2. For the Butter Cake Batter: In a bowl of a stand mixer with the paddles attachment, combine the butter and granulated sugar until creamy. Add the egg and beat until incorporated, then add the flour, baking powder, and salt and mix until it forms a batter. Pat this into the prepared pan.
  3. For the Goo: In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the cream cheese with the butter until smooth. Beat in 1 1/2 cups of the confectioners' sugar, then the eggs and vanilla. Spread the goo over the cake. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, until lightly browned but still soft. Allow the cake to cool completely, then sift the remaining 1/2 cup of confectioners' sugar over the surface. Cut into squares to serve.