And you’ve likely eaten at one of his dozen or so Italian restaurants that he runs with chef-partners Mario Batali and his mother Lidia Bastianich. (Maybe you’ve heard of a little place called Eataly? Or Babbo, Lupa, or Del Posto?)
But the champion of Italian cuisine and authority on Italian wine isn’t simply promoting a diet of delicacies. “Living like an Italian means attaining the perfect balance of working hard and living well,” says Bastianich, who’s been open about his own struggle to quit smoking and inspire others to do the same. We asked the life-long New Yorker what “living well” and being healthy looks like off camera and at home.
Okay, your fridge is really empty. Are you grazing from the fridge at Fox Studios and from the catering table most days? We were having a big soiree at the house the evening this photo was taken, hence the orderly appearance. Like most family refrigerators, ours is usually not quite so pretty. The party came about through my support of a truly great charity—Alex’s Lemonade Stand. And don’t knock the craft tables on sets—they’re so bad, they’re good!
Speaking of “so bad, they’re good,” tell me about the cookies that are front and center. Did you make them? My wife made them actually. They were delicious.
Do you have a penchant for dairy? I see yogurt and cheese galore in your fridge. We like dairy in our house. Everything in moderation!
Got it. Sensitive question: Do you hate that pasta has a bad name among healthy types? Pasta does get a bad rap, like many carbs. But I personally feel that pasta can be incorporated into a healthy diet. If you exercise portion control and a little common sense (like avoiding heavy cream-based sauces) pasta can be a delicious, low calorie, yet satisfying dish. I see pasta as fuel for my athletic ambitions—it’s a key element in my diet that helps me stay fit and healthy.
What else do you love to eat? Wine is one of my passions, and I think to enjoy a little of something you love each day is good for the soul, so wine’s a given. Otherwise, I just try to be conscious about what I’m putting in my body and exercise portion control.
What’s a favorite childhood dish that your mother made? My mother [Lidia Bastianich] has been making me a dish that’s a smorgasbord of sorts since I was very young—fried calamari, prosciutto di parma, radicchio, kidney beans, red onion, and a boiled egg.
You’ve recently gone on the record about giving up smoking. Isn’t this something a lot of people in the the restaurant business have to deal with at some point? I quit smoking after the birth of my daughter, my first child, which was about 18 years ago. My wife was instrumental in urging me to quit, but I wanted to be a good role model for my new family, too. Smoking also affects taste and smell, which are two crucial senses when you’re in the food industry. Support was key in my quit and why I stand behind programs like Blueprint to Quit to help chefs, my fellow food-industry workers, and all smokers succeed at becoming smoke-free.
What about fitness and working out? I took up running, which I never could have done had I not quit smoking, and I ended up falling in love with it. Now I do marathons and triathlons. I was lucky enough to compete in a full Ironman at the 2011 Kona Ironman World Championships. But I still believe quitting smoking was the toughest thing I’ve ever accomplished.
You’re a food and wine guy, but you’ve made a point of talking about living well. What does that mean to you? Living well is not just about being healthy or eating healthy, you have to satisfy your appetite at the same time and not deprive yourself of everything. Deprivation is not living life to the fullest. Take the time to research foods and dishes you love, and see if you can re-create healthier versions. And don’t forget the vino. —Melisse Gelula
For more information, visit www.joebastianich.com