For the past few months, I’ve enjoyed watching Mario Batali talk one-on-one — that is, type one-on-one — with seemingly every fan he’s got. They’ve been asking him on Twitter about the best proportion of cooking water to polenta (5:1), whether semolina flour is safe for diners with wheat allergies (no way), recommendations on where to eat in Barcelona (this place), whether to use black or white truffle oil for a pasta cream sauce (“neither!!”), and just about every other interaction imaginable. He’s been spending more time discussing ravioli fillings and supplying the Twitter equivalent of posing for photos (e.g., “@mariobatali, can you wish my buddy Tim a happy birthday?”) than I’d expect from anyone with a day job, let alone an Iron Chef with a restaurant empire and a daily TV show and a family.
So many restaurateurs, whether celebs or not, outsource tweets to impersonal PR firms and restrict themselves to boring and more boring; announcing promotions and daily specials and brightly commenting on the weather. I asked Batali (by email, if you’re wondering, not DM) how he got to the point where he’s having real conversations; the point where he looked as busy answering questions from followers on New Year’s Eve as the Butterball line on Thanksgiving. Here’s what our local son had to say:
First, yes, it really is Molto Mario’s big fingers doing the typing. I didn’t really have to ask (could anyone else get that tone down just right?) but I asked anyway. He says he tweets in the early morning, or during down-time at The Chew, or halftime at his kids’ games, “times when I’d otherwise be simply sitting looking for something to do.”
How’d it get to this point, where he’s spending a lot of time talking to strangers asking him for advice? Well — people were posing questions directly to him, especially starting in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, and “I simply answer people directly”.
So, what are your best odds for getting his attention on Twitter? He’s likeliest to answer questions that aren’t repeats from previous weeks, so take a spin through his feed before asking. Lately he’s been using the hashtag #heymb, if you want an easier way to search. He tends to repeat the question and give the answer in the same post, a neat feat for Twitter’s 140-character limit, so he says the shorter questions get fuller answers. He also notes that it’s tough to give a full recipe in a tweet (though I notice he supplied a quick recipe for grapefruit mustard vinaigrette the other day). He also tries to reply to the ones where he knows the answers well. “I do not guess.” Already this morning, he’s weighed in on a good side dish for oxtail alla vaccinara (raw shaved vegetables) and whether a particular Brooklyn pizza parlor lives up to its hype (“it defo does, I love it”).
We see him occasionally bantering with fellow food stars like Tom Colicchio on the feed — Batali follows some 200 people, compared with the 227,000+ following him — and says he likes to read tweets from other chefs and food folks (“like Anthony Bourdain, Adam Rapoport, Paula Wolfert, Christine Muhlke, Marc Vetri” as well as people he thinks are smart or funny or sage (no surprise that Lizz Winstead is on that list, along with Andy Borowitz, Tom Papa, John Heilemann, Joel McHale and others).
So why is this all on Twitter? Batali’s Facebook page is, frankly, more like what I would have expected, featuring how-to videos and notices of public appearances and the like. It’s friendly, sure, but it’s aimed at a large and anonymous audience. When I asked why Twitter, and if people can talk anywhere else with him in this way, he said that “Twitter is the one I like the best and can be the most personal with the least amount of hate”.
Anything else you wish I’d asked him? Hey, in this case you can head over and ask him yourself.
Mario Batali, McClatchy Newspapers photo