As the saying goes, blood is thicker than water. In the case of Joe Bastianich, traditional Italian tomato sauce is also thicker than water.
Bastianich worked with his parents, Felice and Lidia Bastianich, at their Queens restaurant Felidia. Lidia is famous as a beloved television chef, cookbook author, restauranteur and owner of a food and entrainment business. Her children, Joe and Tanya, have followed her culinary footsteps and are partners on several endeavors.
After graduating with a degree in finance from Boston College, Bastianich spent time on Wall Street before embarking on a one-year exploration of Italy, focusing on the rich tradition of food and wine, traveling extensively in a well-used and well-loved Fiat Croma. Upon his return, he opened his first restaurant Becco with mother Lidia.
He became close friends with Mario Batali, whom he calls “Kurt Vonnegut meets Einstein” with “an unapologetically Italian sensibility” in his 2012 memoir Restaurant Man. The duo opened a restaurant Babbo, a venture that Bastianich describes as “a pure manifestation of ourselves, an ideal expression of who we were. We were putting our life experience into a living, breathing restaurant.” This included creating a grand bar, which Bastianich asserts launched the current widespread trend of eating bars in restaurants.
Batali was a known chef and had previously opened popular West Village restaurant Po in 1993. “Mostly I looked as if I owned a successful restaurant. Mario looked like he was on a way to a Phish concert. We made a good pair.”
The twosome has “never accepted anything just because that’s the way it was done.” Innovation was integral to everything from menu to décor, a theme that has continued throughout the duo’s continuing partnership. Babbo received the Best New Restaurant in American award from the James Beard Foundation. The organization would also name Bastianich the Outstanding Wine and Spirits Professional of 2005.
In Cividale del Friuli, 35 miles northwest of Trieste in the northeastern corner of Italy, sits the Bastianich Winery, which he founded in 1997 and continues to produce a quarter of a million bottles of wine a year. In 2013 he opened Orsone, a restaurant and hotel. This town is where Bastianich’s parent’s separately fled from during Josip Broz Tito’s regime. “Restaurants may come and go and Babbo may not be there when my sons are 30 years old, but this will. Being able to do the restaurant here and make the wine here kind of puts it on the table and makes it real and tangible.” He told Eater.
He now owns thirty restaurants worldwide with partners Lidia Bastianich and Batali through the Batali & Bastianich Hospitality Group empire. In 2008, Joe Bastianich and Batali were awarded the Outstanding Restaurateur Award through the James Beard Association. Along with Oscar Farinetti, the trio opened up Eataly markets in New York and Chicago. He is currently an Ambassador for the 2015 Milan Expo with the theme of “feeding the planet, energy for life.”
The self-proclaimed Restaurant Man has also authored a memoir and several on food and wine, starred as a judge on MasterChef, MasterChef Juniors and MasterChef Italia. He is a founding member of band The Ramps and triathlete. He also stars as an investor and advisor in CNBC’s Restaurant Startup, a combination between Shark Tank and a cooking reality show.
“At the back of the house, when you’re producing dishes and running labor, you live in that world, whereas in the front of the house you live in the world of the perception of the consumer, which is the abyss of gray between the black and white of the kitchen. It’s two parallel universes that have to overlap seamlessly to create the perfect restaurant experience.”
Bastianich’s keen awareness of this duality and ability to inject his culinary personality, vintner’s knowledge and Italian heritage into both universes has established him as a pioneer in the culinary world.