Mario Batali: ‘I Still Have 192 Pairs of Crocs’

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If any chef knows about buzz, it’s Mario Batali, the culinary powerhouse (along with Joe and Lidia Bastianich) behind Babbo, Del Posto and Eataly. The guy gets written about for buying shoes. What other chef can say that?

So it’s fitting that he moderated a panel on Saturday at Taste Talks in Brooklyn called, “From Indie Bands to Grandpa’s Buick: What Is Buzz?” TIME caught up with him after the talk to pose some very important questions.

Such as: What’s the most overrated food trend?

“Bacon,” says Batali. “I love bacon, but it doesn’t need to be in every single dessert or savory dish.” Also cakes: “Whatever cake it is, whether it’s a cupcake, an upside-down cake, a mini cake.”

On the other hand, he says, trendy alternatives to staples like gluten, soy and dairy are here to stay. “With people’s awareness of Celiac, I think people are going to become more aware of foods that are part of their regular diet that make them feel sick.” Accordingly, his customers at Del Posto can order any pasta dish on the menu gluten-free. And lest they be too embarrassed to reveal their dietary preferences and restrictions in front of their dining companions, they can call in advance to let the restaurant know they’ll be eating gluten-free. When the waiter arrives, they can order normally, and no one but the waiter will know.

Customization will also be a theme at his recently-announced new restaurant at Manhattan’s Maritime Hotel, where he and Joe Bastianich will take over La Bottega. He says the southern Italian-style restaurant will offer “one of our largest menus ever.” The scallopini dish, for instance, will be available in several different versions: chicken, veal and so on.

Also on Batali’s horizon is a likely re-upping of his indie-inflected Hulu show, The High Road With Mario Batali, a black and white short-form program where he tours New York with high-profile guests from Isabella Rossellini to Gabrielle Hamilton, eating food and talking about the city’s history and quirks. The next 12 episodes may have new art direction, but he hopes it will still be in black and white. He calls the show his “love letter to New York,” and said the inspiration came from old Woody Allen movies.

As for those 200 pairs of orange Crocs he infamously ordered last year, Batali says there are still 192 pairs left. “People are always asking me, ‘Hey, can I auction a pair for my kid’s school?’ So I sign them and auction them.” Some of the remaining pairs will be used as decoration in his offices at B&B Hospitality Group. Orange rubber chandeliers, anyone?

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