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)
LISTEN: Seattle native Mario Batali cooks the last White House state dinner for the Obamas

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.

  • listen to rachel belleTune in to KIRO Radio on weekdays to hear Rachel Belle.
Who is Rachel Belle?

Your Last Meal

Rachel Belle

supply chain...
Rachel Belle

Start your holiday shopping now or risk supply chain issues

Now is the time to start holiday gift shopping because if you don't buy soon, supply chain issues may make it tough to get what you want later.
20 days ago
Rachel Belle

How does Dick’s Drive-In pay workers $19 an hour with a menu completely under $5?

Dick's Drive-In recently raised its base pay, as did Taco Time, which is now offering employees $20 an hour at select locations. How do they keep prices low and pay high?
21 days ago
Rachel Belle

Don’t like how you look on Zoom? Many young Americans are now getting Botox

More people are turning to Botox to get rid of lines and wrinkles, but is it safe? How does one age naturally in a youth obsessed country? Experts weigh in.
27 days ago
certified wildlife habitat...
Rachel Belle

Turn your backyard into a Certified Wildlife Habitat

The National Wildlife Federation will help you make your yard a habitable home for bees, birds, bugs and critters. And they'll give you an official sign!
1 month ago
Emily Cherkin and Ben Gitenstein, pictured months after 9/11. (Photo courtesy of Emily Cherkin)...
Rachel Belle

‘You either got married or broke up’: 20 years later, a Seattle couple on falling in love in NYC in the wake of 9/11

On Sept. 11, 2001, Seattle's Emily Cherkin and Ben Gitenstein were 22 years old and separately taking the subway into Manhattan when two planes crashed into the Twin Towers. This is their story.
2 months ago
dirty work...
Rachel Belle

New book ‘Dirty Work’ reveals psychological toll of working unsavory jobs nobody wants

A new book by Eyal Press called "Dirty Work: Essential Jobs and the Hidden Toll of Inequality in America" takes a deeper look at jobs no one wants to do.
2 months ago

Sponsored Articles


Medicare open enrollment for 2022 starts Oct. 15 and SHIBA can help!

Washington State Office of the Insurance Commissioner SPONSORED — Medicare’s Open Enrollment Period, also called the Annual Election Period, is Oct. 15 to Dec. 7. During this time, people enrolled in Medicare can: Switch from Original Medicare to a Medicare Advantage plan and vice versa. Join, drop or switch a Part D prescription drug plan, […]

How to Have a Stress-Free Real Estate Experience

The real estate industry has adapted and sellers are taking full advantage of new real estate models. One of which is Every Door Real Estate.
IQ Air

How Poor Air Quality Is Affecting Our Future Athletes

You cannot control your child’s breathing environment 100% of the time, but you can make a huge impact.
Swedish Health Services

Special Coverage: National Prostate Cancer Awareness Month

There are a wide variety of treatment options available for men with prostate cancer. The most technologically advanced treatment option in the Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform.
Marysville Police Department

Police Opportunities in a Growing, Supportive Washington Community

Marysville PD is looking for both lateral and entry level officers. Begin or continue your career in law enforcement for a growing, supportive community.

Small, Minority-Owned Businesses in King County and Pierce County Can Now Apply For $10,000 Relief Grants Through Comcast RISE

Businesses in King County and Pierce County can apply beginning on October 1, 2021, at www.ComcastRISE.com for a chance to receive a $10,000 relief grant.
Seattle native Mario Batali and the Obamas’ last state dinner