Mario Batali is excited to bring Eataly to Chicago. Very, very excited. Relaxing at the end of the bar at Otto in New York City (which Batali calls his "office"), the larger-than-life chef's eyes grew wider than his collection of Crocs when discussing the opening.
First things first: Batali says the Eataly team is ready to swing open the doors and reveal the massive Italian food theme park to the public on Monday, December 2. He says that the separate fine dining restaurant, Baffo, will open roughly a couple of weeks later.
Batali says they are planning an elaborate velvet rope introduction to Chicago on that day, beginning with a speech by Mayor Emanuel,
an appearance from "the highest Catholic around," and various political and union figures. "There will be a riot the first couple of weeks," he says, "especially that first weekend." He says that employees will hand out cups of gelato to the masses outside.
Batali distills the Eataly concept down to a massive Italian grocery store and bar. "The restaurants exist just to show you how to cook," he says. "And as soon as people understand that it's just a giant bar, all the problems go away."
"I was looking at a little old lady in her seventies or eighties pushing her cart around," he continues. "She's looking at tomato sauce, looking at tomato sauce, picks one up, puts it in her cart. Reaches into her cart, grabs a glass of wine and goes 'glug, glug, glug' and moves on. And I go, 'yes—we have the perfect shopping experience.'"
He says construction is finished, employees are now stocking shelves, and the final health inspection took place yesterday. The two-floor emporium will house an indoor olive tree and other "creative artistic expressions" that Batali's team will surprise him with.
When asked if the gargantuan opening might dwarf other competition, Batali says that "we're just a really good player on their team. The larger vision is 'as the tide rises, all ships go up.'"
While very complimentary to the Chicago chef and restaurant community, Batali gave his take on Jon Stewart's deep dish pizza rant. "They would not call Chicago pizza 'pizza' in Italy. But they would not call a lot of New York pizza 'pizza' in Italy either. Anything that takes that long is a problem—taking 40 minutes to get a pizza is like roasting an entire beef."
Batali will be in town next week to oversee the final pre-opening stage and speak to the media at large. Much more to come before then.
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