Recently Mario Batali cooked the final state dinner for President Barak Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama and Prime Minister Matteo Renzi of Italy, and his wife, Agnese Landini.
Michelle Obama is a huge fan of the celebrity chef who cooks within an Italian tradition and then makes it his own. She requested that Mario prepare a special meal to wrap up the Obama era at the White House.
At a Pasadena book signing of his new book Mario Batali: BIG American Cookbook, the chef shared his recent White House experience with Food Editor and Columnist Russ Parsons. While sitting in the audience, I learned from Batali that chefs aren’t allowed to prepare or bring ingredients to the White House. He went on to tell us that he was inspired to make an elegant Italian dish with the essence of America, so he made fresh ravioli with small pieces of flattened pasta dough, filled and folded over. In Italy it is called agnolotti, and the distinguished chef enhanced the dish with a brown butter and flash-fried sage sauce.
“We had long prep shifts before cooking the agnolotti pasta al dente and putting it in a hot box at 165 degrees to keep it warm,” said Batali. He told us they had a multitude of hot boxes that they rolled down to the dining tent on the South Lawn of the White House. Of course, Batali was pushing a hot box while wearing his signature orange Crocs.
“The guests were a few minutes late sitting down to a candlelit dinner set for the President and the First Lady. “I tricked it out to work by blanching the pasta and shocking them,” said Batali. He drizzled a little olive oil and then made the brown butter with sage sauce to add on top of over 400 plates in less than 7 minutes.
“The President’s first course plate is placed first on the table, next the First Lady is served before the Prime Minister, then 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.”
He told us that from the first course delivered to the last, the time was 55 minutes.
As soon as the state dinner was finished, Batali started his book signing journey across America. Mario Batali: BIG American Cookbook was published by Central Life & Style on October 4, 2016. The book is filled with favorite classic dishes that the chef found while driving through different regions in the United States.
The contents are divided: Northeast and New England; Mid-Atlantic; Deep South; Gulf Coast; Great Lakes; The Heartland; Southwest; Pacific Coast. The book is a culinary travel guide around the smaller towns and cities in America.
Upcoming meet and greet events include the following:
Saturday, November 19 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Babbo Boston, with tastes from a few dishes in the cookbook.
Wednesday, November 30, Mario hangs out on the set of new daytime show Harry, with show host, Harry Connick Jr. to discuss BIG American Cookbook.