Is Molto Mario (Batali) Still The Best Cooking Show On TV?

You want to learn something valuable about cooking while vegging out in front of the tube? Got thirty minutes?  (Or twenty-two if you have TiVO.) In my opinion, the very best thing you can watch is reruns of Molto Mario on Food Network.

Now you might think: "dude, you are a vegetarian! Why would you watch that?" Ok, let’s take a parenthesis here. If you are a vegetarian and think you should only buy vegetarian cookbooks and watch shows that don’t involve meat or fish, you are an … well, let’s not be insulting. You are missing out on most of the knowledge that the food world has to offer, because let’s face it – we are in the minority here, people. Most of the great chefs in the world cook animals. Sucks for me (and the animals). I still buy their books and watch their shows. You can always skip past the parts where our critter friends get dismembered, and probably cringe.

For example, I recently watched an episode called Vuccinia Market. Mario made three dishes: eggplant cutlets, pasta with sardines, and a sweet-and-sour chicken, all in the style of a particular town in Sicily. The eggplant dish was already vegetarian, and garnished with caciocavallo cheese, pepperoncini, fennel fronds, and orange wedges. Yum! The pasta dish might be good with cauliflower and capers. I probably wouldn’t directly substitute in the chicken dish, but the flavor profile could be adapted to, say, artichokes.

So why my love for Mario? Three reasons:

  • he’s a phenomenal cook
  • he’s tremendously knowledgeable and passionate about the regional cuisines of Italy
  • he doesn’t waste my time

In the Vuccinia episode, as is his custom, he makes all 3 dishes almost from scratch during the episode, including most of the chopping. He only does "Betty Crocker moments" for things that have to cook longer than TV allows. And he does all of it while conversing with three guests, and educating the viewer.

There is virtually no fluff. You get to watch a master work his knives and pans while he talks you through his thought process, period. For example, in the Vuccinia episode he stops to explain that you can tell female fennel bulbs (round) from male ones (flat), and that the female ones taste much better. Who the heck knew?

You should particularly listen up whenever he says "the main understanding is…" or "the main event is…" For example, in this episode he tells you that the "main event" in caramelizing a vegetable (like fennel) is to put it in the pan and don’t move them for awhile. Let it just sit in the hot oil, and those surfaces will brown and develop lots of flavor. Simple, but how often do you mindlessly keep tossing the veggies, trying to cook them evenly?

So there you have it. If you haven’t caught Molto Mario lately, please do and let me know what you think. Or if you think there is a better show out there, please comment and tell me what it is!

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Posted by Michael Natkin on Tuesday, August 26th, 2008 in Miscellany.

10 Responses to “Is Molto Mario (Batali) Still The Best Cooking Show On TV?”

  1. Reply
    August 26, 2008 at 10:27 pm #

    Amen, brother! I have my tivo on season pass for this show. In fact (hush whispers) the first tv food show I ever saw was his show on carbonara, and it inspired me to cook it. My first real cooking project. I’ve been hoping for the whole year since I first got tivo that I would get to see that episode…but alas….

  2. Reply
    August 26, 2008 at 10:39 pm #

    I wish the Food Network would just rerun these old shows instead of showing these newer — and quite frankly gaddawful — shows.

  3. Reply
    August 27, 2008 at 2:39 am #

    Have you seen Jamie Oliver’s “Jamie at Home” show yet? I really like the style of food he’s doing now and the gardening information, while not extensive is good.

  4. Reply
    August 27, 2008 at 7:32 am #

    I agree that Mario is the best cook on tv. I also used to love the Japanese version of Iron Chef

  5. Reply
    August 27, 2008 at 7:48 am #

    Hmm… I agree that Molto Mario is a great source of recipes and food inspiration, and I do like Batali, but on the show I feel like he condescends to his guests at times. Maybe it’s just me. I can’t hold anything against him, though, cause I live above one of his restaurants and the stairway in my building always smells amaaaaaaaazing.

    Have you seen Anne Burrell’s new show? I love her enthusiasm, and she has the knowledge and experience to back it up. (Although the amount of salt she uses scares me a little!) She’s someone I’d love to be in the kitchen with.

  6. Reply
    August 27, 2008 at 1:02 pm #

    I agree wholeheartedly. Especially the no-nonsense part. I was up in Seattle the other day and went to Salumi, Mario’s father’s shop. As an avowed meat lover, I was in heaven. But…I love veg dishes, too, so long as they have good depth of flavor. Thanks for the reminder to tune in to Mario!

  7. Reply
    August 28, 2008 at 4:28 am #

    Pity we don’t get to see food shows of this standard in Greece. Really, who knew about female and male fennel, that’s great. I also learned in your post about caciocavallo, which I had to look up in wiki, but evidently is a cheese we have in Cyprus called cascavalli, probably remnant during the Venetian rule in Cyprus. However, the example given by wiki that caciocavallo is similar to the Greek kaseri is absolutely wrong. I would say with the Greek graviera.

  8. Reply
    Michael Natkin
    August 29, 2008 at 9:42 pm #

    Gnome – I’ve still yet to master carbonara, I need to see that episode too.

    js – yep, it seems most of the new shows except Top Chef are lame.

    Maggie – nope! I’d like to catch it. He’s goofy but he can cook.

    Redman – yeah, the J. Iron Chef is awesome, love the voiceovers.

    Butter – is there anything veg to eat at Salumi? I’ve never been in there but I should drop by just for the brush with celebrity.

    iVY – thanks for the tip, I’ll be sure not to sub kaseri!

  9. Reply
    September 6, 2008 at 4:38 pm #

    I remain a sucker for America’s Test Kitchen, because science rules and they test the ever-loving heck out of all their recipes. Also I could watch Bridget or Julia cut onions all day — competence is dead sexy. Their equipment ratings are always worth a look, Jack’s tastings are charming, and Chris provides comic relief… it all adds up to good geeky fun for me. The later seasons may be trying for a flashier look and feel, but there’s plenty of archives left for me to watch and enjoy.

  10. Reply
    September 12, 2008 at 11:04 am #

    Salumi does have one or two token veg dishes, but they’re usually pretty good. I’ve gotten an eggplant sandwich with their homemade mozzarella a few times before, and occasionally they have a polenta or gnocchi thing.

    I usually don’t want to brave the lines unless I’m with someone who’s going to get more out of it, but it’s worth stopping in with a more carnivorous friend.

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