Seattle native Mario Batali and the Obamas’ last state dinner

Nov 30, 2016, 6:00 AM | Updated: 6:17 am
Mario Batali...
Celebrity chef Mario Batali has Washington roots and recently cooked the last state dinner for the Obamas. (KIRO Radio)
(KIRO Radio)

Before Mario Batali was Molto Mario, a celebrity chef with 26 restaurants, TV shows and cookbooks, he was just an Italian-American kid from Washington state.

“We were hop growers,” Batali says about his family. “We went to the lower valley [in Yakima] to buy vegetables to pickle in our antipasto. Helped my Aunt Marti make dilly beans. We were big picklers. For us that was it!”

“We’d go down to Dash Point Road and pick all the blackberries for free and you could and come home and make 50 pies, one for every Sunday of the year, except for two, obviously,” he said. “My favorite dessert to this day still is plain, fresh blackberries and vanilla ice cream. That’s what I want. That’s what America wants, it’s the new white meat!”

Batali’s family still does business in Seattle. His sister, Gina, runs Salumi, a cured meats shop and restaurant his father, Armandino Batali, opened in Seattle’s Pioneer Square. People line up around the block for a porchetta sandwich or a pound of Finnochiona Salami.

Mario Batali and the Obamas’ last state dinner

In October, Mario Batali had the great and rare honor of cooking the last state dinner for the Obama presidency at the White House. The president and first lady hosted the Italian prime minister and his wife, so presumably they chose Batali because he’s an Italian-American chef.

“They only let you bring four chefs on your team and you cook for 400 people,” Batali said. “You can’t bring any food. You have to buy stuff through their stuff. It was a total blast, we had a great time. Met the dogs and walked around the garden and got big hugs from Michelle … Mrs. Obama and the President.”

“But it was just a remarkable experience,” he said. “Jerry Seinfeld is there and George Stephanopoulos is there and James Taylor is there and Joe Biden is there. Everybody was really cool.”

Batali wrote up a handful of menus for the First Lady to choose from. He cooked Italian-style food using all-American ingredients.

“We did agnolotti of sweet potatoes with brown butter and sage,” Batali said. “Then we did a frisée salad with roasted Hubbard squash, dusted in fennel pollen and finished with arrope and pecorino de New York. Then we did a beef braciole, modern style. And then a green apple crostata with buttermilk gelato and thyme scented caramel.”

“Yes, it was a presidential dinner, I’m quite pleased about the entire thing!” he said. “They were just happy. Then Gwen Stefani comes out and sings. And everybody’s like, yeah! We’re at the White House! Of course Gwen Stefani is singing, why not?”

Batali came into the KIRO studio dressed in his signature look: shorts, fleece vest, ginger hair tied back in a ponytail (in a scrunchie!) and, of course, he was wearing those shoes. I asked him if he’s tired of talking about his orange Crocs.

“No! It doesn’t bother me! They’re funny! Even Michelle Obama comments on them,” he said. “I wear only one look. It took me years to develop this highly refined, completely haute couture look. So I’m never gonna drop it, even for the president.”

To hear more of our conversation, including what Batali’s last meal would be, check out my podcast, Your Last Meal here or on iTunes.

I also uncover the history of Chef Boyardee, who was, in fact, a real Italian chef, and basically America’s first celebrity chef. I also chat with a former White House chef who cooked for both Bush families and the Clintons.

Rachel Belle

Rachel Belle...
Rachel Belle

Belle: This isn’t goodbye, it’s see you later

After 20 years in news radio, I'm leaving my post at KIRO Newsradio to focus on making my podcast "Your Last Meal" full-time!
4 months ago
emily post etiquette...
Rachel Belle

Emily Post’s “Etiquette” goes modern: Advice on pronouns, hugging

In 1922, Emily Post published her very first etiquette book. Since then, 18 editions have been published by five generations of Posts.
4 months ago
Rachel Belle

Combat winter blues with friluftsliv, the Nordic tradition of being outside

Friluftsliv is part of the culture in Sweden, Norway, Finland, Iceland and Denmark, places that are darker and colder than Seattle in winter.
4 months ago
small talk...
Rachel Belle

Most Americans hate small talk, but Seattleites continue talking about weather

Out of 1,000 people surveyed, 71% said they prefer silence to small talk and 89% of Gen Z use their phones to avoid making small talk.
5 months ago
(Igordoon Primus/Unsplash)...
Rachel Belle

Seattle sperm bank in desperate need of Black donors

Only 2% of American sperm donors are Black men, which is causing a lot of heartache for women specifically looking for a Black donor. 
5 months ago
Photo courtesy of Rosie Grant...
Rachel Belle

Woman cooking recipes engraved on gravestones says they’re all ‘to die for’

You know that recipe your family requests at every holiday, potluck and birthday party? What if you had it engraved on your tombstone?
5 months ago

Sponsored Articles

Emergency Preparedness...

Prepare for the next disaster at the Emergency Preparedness Conference

Being prepared before the next emergency arrives is key to preserving businesses and organizations of many kinds.
SHIBA volunteer...

Volunteer to help people understand their Medicare options!

If you’re retired or getting ready to retire and looking for new ways to stay active, becoming a SHIBA volunteer could be for you!
safety from crime...

As crime increases, our safety measures must too

It's easy to be accused of fearmongering regarding crime, but Seattle residents might have good reason to be concerned for their safety.
Comcast Ready for Business Fund...
Ilona Lohrey | President and CEO, GSBA

GSBA is closing the disparity gap with Ready for Business Fund

GSBA, Comcast, and other partners are working to address disparities in access to financial resources with the Ready for Business fund.

Medicare open enrollment is here and SHIBA can help!

The SHIBA program – part of the Office of the Insurance Commissioner – is ready to help with your Medicare open enrollment decisions.
Lake Washington Windows...

Choosing Best Windows for Your Home

Lake Washington Windows and Doors is a local window dealer offering the exclusive Leak Armor installation.
Seattle native Mario Batali and the Obamas’ last state dinner