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How Mary Met Mario: An Excerpt From Eating Stories, Coming to NYC Wine & Food Festival

Mario Batali is hosting a new event at this year's NYCWFF.

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Mario Batali and Mary Giuliani.
Mario Batali and Mary Giuliani.

While restaurateur Joe Bastianich is hosting a music festival in Italy, his business partner, chef Mario Batali is in the middle of putting together a new event called "Eating Stories." Batali has teamed up with "caterer to the stars" Mary Giuliani on the event which will take place during the New York City Wine and Food Festival.

Batali, Giuliani, as well as chef Danny Bowien (Mission Chinese Food), rapper Action Bronson, food artists Jennifer Rubell, and other "surprise guests," will share "stories, poems or songs from their careers that center around food or beverage." There will also be bites and drinks from Giuliani's catering company to "bring each story to life." Batali and Giuliani hope to make "Eating Stories" an annual event.

The event is timed around the release of Giuliani's forthcoming book, The Cocktail Party: Eat. Drink. Play. Recover. which will be published by Ballantine at the end of October. (Batali wrote the forward.) "Eating Stories" takes place October 17 and tickets, which are currently on sale, are available for $150. Below is an excerpt about Batali from Giuliani's upcoming book:

Artichokes, Grandpa, Mario: These Are a Few of My Favorite Things

Food permeates everything for me, including all of my happiest memories. Take Christmas, for example. For some, tinsel and bubble lights conjure up childhood memories of happy holidays, but for me, it's cardoons and cucidati. To me, Christmas is always about food.

I have one man to thank for this, my grandfather, Papa Charlie. A Sicilian-American with a heart of gold who treasured his family above all - with food, drink and a pack of Kent cigarettes a close second.

In my family, cooking, not shopping, was what kicked off our holiday season with Papa Charlie as the Captain of our Sicilian-America ship. His job was to keep us all on schedule for The Main Event - Christmas Eve dinner.

Two weeks prior we made the cucidati. Papa told us it was a recipe passed down by Italian nuns from the town in Sicily from which we hail, Polizzi Generosa. Not sure to this day if his story was true, but nevertheless, the way he told it (always with a dirty joke about a nun) always made me laugh. He would take out an old metal meat grinder (the one that we only saw once a year) and he would load in raisins, piñoli nuts, dates and molasses. He would let me turn the handle and every year he would pretend that I caught his finger in the grind. This of course would require him to take a "medicinal" swig of wine before continuing on with the baking process.

The week before Christmas was for shopping and for making the Bolognese. I felt so special that he chose to take my sister and me on this annual trip - a ritual, really - heading into Brooklyn in his grey Cadillac. First, we would stop at the butcher, then the cheese shop, the ravioli store and finally to get the mushrooms, cardones and artichokes (all in wooden crates). Of course all the storeowners knew my grandfather by name and they always gave my sister and me some special treats. Once, a butcher gave us gold crosses that he kept in his pocket as if they were pieces of candy.

Finally on the morning of Christmas Eve, our kitchen would be packed like the prepping stations at a busy restaurant. Papa would fry the cardones with a cigarette dangling out the side of his mouth, while my sister and I would stuff the mushrooms and the artichokes.

Those artichokes... that brings me to a story about my other favorite Italian hero, my business partner Mario Batali.

When I was a little girl, my mother picked me up from my first gymnastics class. In the back seat of her yellow Cougar, I burst into tears.

"What's wrong, Mary? Didn't you like gymnastics?" my mother asked.
"No, Mom, I loved gymnastics! It's just that I'm really going to miss you and Dad when I have to go to the Olympics!" I tearfully replied.

Please keep in mind that it was my first class and I could barely do a cartwheel. Delusions of grandeur—big ones—started for me at quite an early age.
And while you'd think that as I grew older these delusions or "magical thinking" went away...not even close!

Sixteen years ago, my husband and I moved to New York City and even though we struggled each month to make rent on our studio apartment, we somehow managed to scramble together a few extra dollars to eat at Mario Batali's first restaurant, PO.

The meal, the experience, the whole was a total game changer. You could feel that something was different about this place. Mario was taking food from an afterthought to an only thought and I became obsessed.

Then, I discovered that the chef of my now new favorite restaurant had a show on The Food Network called Molto Mario, which—on the odd months our cable bill was paid—I would obsessively watch with the same excitement of those crazy girls in the front rows of Beatles concerts. And I would tell my husband, ‘"One day, I'm gonna stuff an artichoke for Mario Batali and he's gonna love it!"

Never did get that gold medal, but I was lucky enough to meet and work with my hero Mario and when I did, I felt the same pride I had when Papa Charlie trusted me to turn the handle of his beloved meat grinder.

When I'm with Mario, I literally get chills, because I have never met anyone who totally and completely embodies these beloved images and memories I have of my grandfather. Not since Papa Charlie have I heard anyone speak so intelligently and passionately about food. Both of them live to make people happy by gathering them in with the most special food and drink - special not only because it's always so heavenly delicious but because both Papa Charlie and Mario possess endless knowledge of Old Country recipes that are keep alive through the great tradition of communing with friends and family. For both Papa Charlie and Mario, food equals love.

And just like Santa, sometimes, delusional dreams do come true!

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