My Tivo “now playing” list is an embarrassment of cooking show riches: Lydia Bastianich, The Barefoot Contessa, and Martha Stewart all top the list. (Actually, Martha isn’t faring too well. I became convinced that she jumped the shark when I read, in one of the episode descriptions: “Martha and Richard Simmons make tiaras.” Yikes!) Yet my stand-out favorite, and the one I watch compulsively, is the show I watched compulsively when I first started cooking five years ago: Molto Mario.
Love him or hate him, Mario Batali knows his Italian food. Watching his show is an education in history, geography, language, agriculture and, of course, cookery. I watch his show pretty much every day (and what I’m watching, apparently, are old reruns–the Tivo descriptions date the shows back to 2001 and 2002; I don’t think he’s filming “Molto Mario” anymore) and I’m starting to really grasp the techniques that he advocates. Watching Mario is making me a better cook.
But that’s not the best part about watching. The very best and most gawkery aspect of watching his show are the celebrity guests. Mario always cooks for three guests–they sit on stools watching him cook. Often they are just average folk–or, presumably, family and friends of The Food Network. But VERY often (I’d say, at least twice a week) you will spot an important food personality on one of those stools. An important food personality or even a bona fide celebrity. Here are the guests I’ve spotted in my time watching Mario:
– Ruth Reichl (she was on the one that aired today)
– Amanda Hesser
– Bill Buford
– Jake Gyllenhaal
– Maggie Gyllenhaal
– Mario Cantone
– Rocco Dispirito
– Anthony Bourdain
– Joe Bastianich (Mario’s partner—ok, not a celebrity, but notable nonetheless)
– Michael Imperioli
And those are all the ones I can remember off the top of my head. Clearly Mario has one of those personalities that draw important people to him. That and his superior cooking skills. If you have a Tivo, I suggest you check it out: come for the gawking, stay for the food.