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Living Large

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Batali, with Paltrow, who co-hosts "Spain ... On the Road Again."  

But no small part of Batali’s charm is that, deep down, he doesn’t really care. He pays lip service to the dangers of overexposure and lovingly mocks those younger chefs who have stolen a page from his media-courtship playbook (on Zak Pelaccio: The fatty barbecue dude, he burped yesterday and it’s in the papers). But Batali’s experience with extreme notoriety has so far been little but beneficial. My restaurants are always full, my businesses do well, my books sell well, the events I do are well attended, he says. And there’s very little downside. No one chases me down the street. I’m not the Beatles. I’m a fucking cook.

There are those, to be sure, who argue the contrary: that the celebrity side of Batali’s identity has now completely superseded his chefhood. It’s because of this misconception that people have that the chef is the cook, Batali retorts. The chef is the guy who directs the cooks, and who also knows how much the toilet paper costs and how to calculate when you need to repaint. The chef runs the business. And by that standard, Batali’s chefly credentials remain unimpeachable. His culinary empire, which stretches now from coast to coast and through Las Vegas in between, rakes in millions of dollars every year. And its expansion continues apace. In October, Batali and his partner, Joe Bastianich, will open a new restaurant called the Tarry Lodge, in Port Chester, New York.

Batali is confident that his formula will work as well in Westchester as it has in Manhattan. But even if he's wrong, it's hard to imagine that the lesson he would take is that he'd worn out his welcome. The cornerstones of his empire in the city are, by his reckoning, better than they’ve ever been. The lifestyle that his fame has afforded him he finds sweeter every day. What passes for him as work, others would regard as fantasy. When people ask, How are you, man?’ I say, Life is a constant source of joy, every breath a gift!’ And they say, Fuck you,’ because it sounds like crap. But it isn’t crap. It’s my life.


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