A publishing house announced today it had acquired the rights to two forthcoming Mario Batali cookbooks, which is news that typically wouldn’t merit much space in our little gastronomic world (the celebrity chef, after all, has no restaurants here), except for one thing: Jim Webster, a multiplatform editor at The Washington Post, will be collaborating with Batali on one of the projects.
The title of their collaboration is still under negotiation, but the book is expected to hit stores or a downloadable site in the fall of 2014. In its release, Grand Central Life & Style, an imprint of Grand Central Publishing that also printed Gwyneth Paltrow’s “It’s All Good,” notes the cookbook will “look at farmers and their top products in 12 American states across the country — from Maine to Washington— and will include 70 recipes that utilize these local ingredients.” (The other project, due in the fall of 2015, will feature more than 250 recipes in which Batali interprets American regional cooking, from Texas barbecue to New England seafood soups.)
The books, based on an accounting on Batali’s Web site, will be his 10th and 11th releases.
Webster agreed to answer a few questions about his partnership with Batali.
Congratulations, Jim, on the cookbook collaboration with Batali. You went from chauffeuring Batali to collaborating with him. How did your writing partnership come about?
Thanks! I met Mario in 2008 after winning his Ultimate Grilling Challenge, and I became friends with a lot of the people on his team. So my wife and I found ourselves getting invited to his foundation events and working with them at those events, then we just sort of became part of the team.
At one of the events, Mario said we should figure out a way to work together. So I figured that was an offer I needed to jump on. There were two different occasions where we were in a group having a conversation and someone asked him about chefs to watch for, and both times he said to watch for the rise of farmers. And I started to think about it and thought that would be an interesting thing to explore. I suggested the idea of a book to him, and he loved it from the first discussion.
What will your role be with the book? Given Batali’s schedule, I wonder if you’ll be essentially writing this. How much collaboration with Batali do you expect?
There are two elements to the book: Essays that are about the farm/farmer/ingredient, and then associated recipes inspired by that farm/farmer. I’ve met the farmers and am writing the essays, and Mario is doing all the recipes. We had discussions about where we wanted to write about, geographically, trying to cover as much of the country as we could to get as diverse a sampling of farmers as possible. His access, input and enthusiasm have been amazing. I have a lot of respect for the fact that I’m very lucky.
Is this the first cookbook you’ve worked on?
Will you, by chance, be roaming the country with Batali, searching for those farmers and ingredients, sort of like a culinary version of “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” presumably with bacon substituting for LSD? Or are the farmers selected already?
We have our farmers lined up. I’ve visited most of them already, and they’re all amazing people. The dedication to their craft is such a constant among them, and it has been really inspiring. Though your idea sounds like a good sequel.
Will the book include, by chance, your famous pork version of a turducken,which won you the Batali Ultimate Grilling Challenge a few years ago?
A couple of my friends have already suggested that! I’m okay with it, but I haven’t mentioned that to Mario yet. That’s totally his call.
Will you ever speak to us again when the book is out and you’ll be forever drawn into Batali’s orbit?
I’m humbled to be in The Washington Post orbit.