Celebrity chef Mario Batali hasn’t been heard from very much since the #MeToo movement resulted in multiple allegations against him beginning in 2017. Within a year, Batali lost his spot on the ABC program The Chew, which was subsequently canceled. His restaurant empire then broke apart as he was enveloped in legal troubles. Last year, as reported by the New York Times, he settled two Boston lawsuits involving women who said he groped them at a bar and a restaurant, and he was found not guilty in another case involving similar allegations.
In the wake of it all, Batali and his wife, Susi Cahn, shifted their lives to their property in Northport, Michigan, just north of Traverse City. Earlier this year, Batali made a quiet investment in the locally owned Common Good Bakery cafes, and has popped up every so often at northern Michigan charitable endeavors. Now, he is tip-toeing back onto the food scene in a slightly more public way.
On October 20, Batali’s long dormant Instagram account, which had not published a single post since 2017, came back to life with posts promising Mario Batali Virtual Events. It listed an email address, email@example.com, where people could get information.
Mario Batali’s new venture, explained
In subsequent posts, Batali explained that he will be teaching a trio of Zoom classes from December 1-3 called Molto A Casa. I emailed the gmail account and learned that classes cost $50 for one course or $150 for all three. Students are promised a live Q&A, plus a cooking lesson. If you enroll and miss the class, a replay will be available on a private YouTube account.
The first class will feature two Roman pastas: bucatini all’amatriciana and spaghetti cacio e pepe. (I paid to take that one.) The second class has a menu of antipasti, including fritelle di cavolfiore (cauliflower fritters), clams oreganate (baked clams), and eggs in purgatory, also known as shakshuka. The third class will center around lasagne alla bolognese.
Along with those Instagram posts, Batali recorded an Instagram Reel from his home kitchen, which features a giant wall hanging of the state of Michigan made from license plates.
“Here we are in my kitchen,” he said during the mini tour, showing off his stove and pantry. “This is where we will be cooking—or I will be cooking… You’ll see what’s going on from my perspective, in my world, as I cook at home.”
On Sunday, he added another video of a sizzling pan of chicken thighs, along with another skillet filled with mushrooms, onion, yellow and red peppers. (If you’re into ASMR, the sound is vibrant.)
None of Batali’s new posts have addressed his legal issues, from which he’s made multiple attempts to move on. In December 2017, as stories about his troubles were coming to light in the media, he sent an apology email along with a recipe for pizza dough cinnamon rolls. He was roundly roasted for it.
Batali’s return to the food scene
In April 2018, the New York Times reported that Batali was trying to chart a new path to put the scandal behind him. His legal issues only mounted thereafter, prompting his retreat to the north country.
But there, and elsewhere, Batali has a set of supporters who believe he can still make a culinary contribution. Jason Gollan, co-founder of the Common Good restaurants with his wife, Linda, met Batali after he showed up in 2017 at the original bakery, asking to meet him. Batali had tried the bakery’s sourdough bread and wanted to know more about the way it was made.
Gollan wasn’t surprised by his interest. “Even the best chefs in the world don’t know very much about what I do, and they are fascinated to talk through the nuance of the process,” Gollan tells The Takeout. “It felt good to have someone of his stature acknowledge what I am doing.”
Batali has not taken a day-to-day role in running Common Good, although Gollan says he is available when he calls him for input. “If I don’t reach out to him, I never hear from him,” he says. “Every few months, he sits down and asks me how it’s going.” The Common Good owner says he hasn’t brought up Batali’s legal issues, nor did they discuss his recent decision to teach cooking classes.
“It’s interesting that it seems like enough time has passed and he’s ready to be out in the world again,” Gollan says. “Of course, it’s risky, but he’s getting a warm reception from what I can tell.”
On Instagram, many fans, fellow chefs, and celebrities have applauded Batali’s latest posts. Indeed, Batali actually may have timed things right. Gollan says some of his employees under age 25 have no idea of Batali’s previous fame—or, as his critics might say, infamy.