Anthony Bourdain, Mario Batali Launch 2016 EAT (RED) Culinary Tour

Mario Batali, Courtesy EAT (RED)


If you could eat well and save lives at once, you could hardly say no, could you?

To that end, this year’s edition of the highly anticipated EAT (RED) kicks off June 2 in New York, with the (RED) Supper at Battery Park City’s Brookfield Place, hosted by those ubiquitous, globe-trotting celeb chefs Mario Batali and Anthony Bourdain. Other participating a-list culinary talent for the night will include Dominique Ansel, Frank Falcinelli, Nancy Silverton, Tom Douglas, Vinny Dotolo, Angela Dimayuga, Kristen Kish and Kevin Gillespie.

The overall goal? To raise money for the ongoing (RED) #86AIDS effort, by means of 27 days of edible nirvana. Indeed, the “tour” continues through the 28th, with special dinner, lunch, brunch, happy hour or cocktail events and offerings by many of the world’s hottest epicurean gods and goddesses at their exalted, signature restaurants.

Bourdain_CNN1[1] Eat Red

Anthony Bourdain (Courtesy CNN)

To name but a few: Enrique Olivera at Mexico City’s Eno, Stephanie Izard at Chicago’s Little Goat Diner, Jason Wass at London’s Polpetto, April Bloomfield at NYC’s Spotted Pig, Thomas Keller at the Las Vegas and Beverly Hills Bouchon Bakery locations, Alice Waters at Berkeley’s Chez Panisse, Jose Andres at DC’s Jaleo, as well as Batali and Lidia Bastianich’s own B&BHG Vegas restaurants at the Venetian/Palazzo, including B&B, OTTO Enoteca & Pizzeria and Carnevino Italian Steakhouse—with scores of delectable options to choose from in two dozen cities across four continents.

“Anyone who has ever worked in a kitchen knows that the sum of our efforts always far exceeds what we can do individually,” says Batali. “EAT (RED) is an opportunity for all of our restaurants to collectively contribute to a tremendously worthy cause while doing what we do best: making delicious food.”

LeftBank_GnocciGnocchi at Left Bank NYC, Courtesy EAT (RED)

The (RED) charity, of course, was founded by Bono in 2006, with The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria as its primary recipient. EAT (RED) debuted in 2014, and has become one of its most high-profile annual events. N.B. Plan to reserve in advance. It’s a hot ticket.

Mario Batali Pays $5.25 Million in Employee Wage and Tip Lawsuit – Regulations Inside

Some Facebook friends led by such pains in the asses as Henry Alexander Dumas and Susan Anton regularly prod me to write about various wrongdoings by evil doers. The reported settlement by restauranteur Mario Batali and his partners over a wage/tip dispute is their latest peeve for Steve to explore. It seems that workers at Mario’s restaurants have been forced to share their tips with sommeliers – and that isn’t allowed. Other infractions, like choosing not to pay employees a required extra hour of pay after the 10th hour of labor, were also cited. Mr. Batali is reportedly settling for $5.25 million.That’s a whole lot of jars of Mario Batali Marinara Pasta Sauce. This settlement is a wake-up call to the industry. The bad practices of this crew regarding employers encroaching on employee tip pools is merely the tip of the industry iceberg. This huge precedent has law firms salivating on the next group of former or current disgruntled employees to step up and cry foul. I believe that a great deal of the business is not in compliance with current law. I’m not going to name names as I am friends with most, but I will list the most common "misunderstandings" and the corresponding New York State Labor Department regulation.

Who shares in the tip pool, the core of the Batali suit, is an industry mess waiting for the right lawyer to meet the right pissed-off employee. Many establishments find creative ways to supplement managers’ pay, door staff pay, and even line their own pockets off the tips of the waitrons. In bottle service establishments, these employees often score big. It is not unusual for a waitron in a high-profile establishment to take in more than a thousand dollars on a good night. That doesn’t mean they are not entitled to $1,001 or more if the rules are followed. I have heard instances where a whale (a hugely-spending customer) has bought hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of bottles but the staff received an unusually smaller percentage of the gargantuan tip. Many places give back to promoters and door hosts and door people and celebrity wranglers who are not entitled to a cut. I must note that the really buttoned-up places are very careful to do things right. It’s usually the second-level places that cheat. I have seen an extra line put into the physical receipt that specifies an optional charge or tip for otherwise ineligible staff. The regulation seems clear that a direct interaction between the customer and the employee must occur and the customer must know that that employee is participating in the tip pool or that that employee could reasonably be assumed to be part of it.
Here’s the regulation:
                 146-2.14. Tip sharing and tip pooling.
   (a) Tip sharing is the practice by which a directly tipped employee gives a portion of his or her tips to another service employee or food service worker who    participated in providing service to customers and keeps the balance.
   (b) Tip pooling is the practice by which the tip earnings of directly tipped employees are intermingled in a common pool and then redistributed among directly and indirectly tipped employees.
   (c) Directly tipped employees are those who receive tips from patrons or customers without any intermediary between the patron or customer and the employee.
   (d) Indirectly tipped employees are those employees who, without receiving direct tips, are eligible to receive shared tips or to receive distributions from a tip pool.
   (e) Eligibility of employees to receive shared tips, or to receive distributions from a tip pool, shall be based upon duties and not titles. Eligible employees must perform, or assist in performing, personal service to patrons at a level that is a principal and regular part of their duties and is not merely occasional or incidental. Examples of eligible occupations include:
(1) wait staff; (2) counter personnel who serve food or beverages to customers; (3) bus persons; (4) bartenders; (5) service bartenders; (6) barbacks; (7) food runners; (8) captains who provide direct food service to customers; and (9) hosts who greet and seat guest
Some establishments takes the credit card company’s service charge out of the tip pool. They cannot do this. They can take a proportion of the charge out as defined below. Many places take the whole 5 percent when only 1 is allowed.
146-2.20. Tips charged on credit cards. When tips are charged on credit cards, an employer is not required to pay the employee’s pro-rated share of the service charge taken by the credit card company for the processing of the tip. The employer must return to the employee the full amount of the tip charged on the credit    card, minus the pro-rated portion of the tip taken by the credit card company.
Example: The bill totals $100.00 exactly. The customer leaves, on their credit card, the $100.00 payment of the bill, as well as a $20.00 tip. Both the tip and the bill must be processed through a credit card company which charges a 5% fee on all transactions. The total charge levied by the credit card company on the $120.00 charge is $6.00. Of that $6.00, $5.00 is for the bill (5% of $100) and $1.00 is for the tip (5% of $20). The employer must provide the employee $19, which represents the $20 tip minus $1.00 pro- rated employee’s portion of the surcharge).
Some establishments charge a waitron if the customer skips out on the bill. The rules say that can’t be done. Some joints stiff an employee of wages or tips if they quit or flip off a customer.
             146-2.7. Deductions and expenses.
       (a) Employers may not make any deductions from wages, except for credits authorized in this Part and deductions authorized or required by law, such as for social security and income taxes. Some examples of prohibited deductions are:
      (1) deductions for spoilage or breakage; (2) deductions because of non-payment by a customer; (3) deductions for cash shortages or losses; and (4) fines or  penalties for lateness, misconduct, or quitting by an employee without notice.      
Most places don’t pay new employees while they are trailing or training. The mantra goes "everybody starts this way."
            146-2.11. Learner, trainee, or apprentice rates. Any employees whom an            
            employer designates learners, trainees, or apprentices must
            nonetheless be paid at least the minimum rates prescribed in this Part.
Some places think by using the words service charge that they can get around this issue.
146-2.18. Charge purported to be a gratuity or tip.
Section 196-d of the New York State Labor Law prohibits employers from demanding, accepting, or retaining, directly or indirectly, any part of an employee’s gratuity or any charge purported to be a gratuity.
         (a) A charge purported to be a gratuity must be distributed in full as gratuities to the service employees or food service workers who provided the service.
         (b) There shall be a rebuttable presumption that any charge in addition to charges for food, beverage, lodging, and other specified materials or services, including but not limited to any charge for “service” or “food service,” is a charge purported to be a gratuity.
These regulations were written with a restaurant mentality and are often a little less reasonable in places where food isn’t served. Still they exist and the Batali lawsuit settlement must have vengeful minds thinking of getting back at places that fired them. Clubs must review their practices or face debilitating legal action. Even then, it may be too late to prevent fines for past indiscretions. The rules and penalties for ignoring them or bending them seem to be enforceable going back as much as six years. With many places including restaurant components as part of their marketing, regulation will be more scrutinized and enforced. Wages and regulations often vary for hotel employees. Here, too, a gray area may exist for the distribution of the green. 

Happy Earth Day! NYC’s Greenest Restaurants

When you’re feasting on a platter of cheese pierogies at Veselka, and loaded nachos from Wildwood BBQ, it’s nice to temper your finger-shaking “you said you’d order kale!” conscience with the fact that hey, you’re going green so scram. In NYC, only a select bunch of restaurants are actually Certified Green – meaning they’re using eco-friendly products and conserving energy and water – and the list just might surprise you (where are all those vegan restaurants?) Here are our favorites:

1.     Lupa Osteria Romana

2.     Nobu

3.     Le Bernadin

4.     L’Artusi

5.     Veselka

6.     Wildwood Barbeque

7.     Otto

8.     Dos Caminos

9.     Del Posto

10.   dell’anima

Know every inch of this city by visiting BlackBook’s NY City Guides, & follow Bonnie on Twitter here.

New York Opening: Blue Ribbon Sushi Izakaya at the Thompson LES

Perhaps no New York restaurant "empire" has been built as quietly at that of Blue Ribbon. McNally and Batali are forever in the headlines, while the Bromberg Brothers and their Blue Ribbon restaurants have carried on with the business of cultivating the most devout following in NYC. But the new Blue Ribbon Sushi Izakaya will be their first foray into the world of fashionable hotel dining–replacing, as it is, the Susur Lee’s ambitious Shang at the Thompson LES.

The new Blue Ribbon Sushi Izakaya is a fun, shareable plates version of their revered sushi eateries, with communal tables contributing to the buzzy vibe, and an understatedly sexy interior. Fitting, for its location in this ceaselessly hip hotel, expect a cool, late night bar scene.

The Weekend: Ridiculous Parties, Bands, & the Return of Brunch

The weekend started in my brain a couple days ago. Watching Cash Cab reruns in my apartment was all I could do to keep from checking out completely. But now it’s Friday, which usually marks the beginning of my aimlessly wandering around town in an alcohol-induced stupor, just happy my fingers aren’t hovering over a keyboard. (Or, I may remain in my apartment in the fetal position, clutching the remote control, paranoid that my computer is staring at me.) Assuming all goes well, I’ll be joining society to participate in the following weekend goings-ons, perhaps a little too enthusiastically (yay guest model DJs at Spice Market!). Otherwise, see you all on Monday, none the wiser, but probably caught up on Mad Men.

LOL I mean, really New York promoters? Really?

Guest Model DJ Nights at Spice Market The title says it all, doesn’t it? Though Jean-Georges’s interpretation of Asian street cuisine might just make you forget that the invite actually says this: “Music & beauty: every show featuring special guest model DJs in the downstairs lounge.” Modelizers rejoice. When: Friday, 9:00PM- 1:00AM. Location: Spice Market, 403 West 13th St.

Halloween Hotness: Cocktails & VIP Costume Fitting for NYC Bloggers NYC bloggers are invited to come sip on spooky cocktails while getting a personal Halloween costume fitting from the style experts. Tee-hee. When: Friday, 6:00PM- 9:00PM. Location: Screaming Mimi’s, 382 Lafayette Street.

RAD Have something to talk about at the water cooler on Monday morning.

Edgar Allan Poe and His Ghostly Neighbors of Greenwich Village Walking Tour Get in the Halloween spirit! When: Saturday, 9:30PM. Location: Tour starts at Fire Patrol Station No. 2, 84 West Third Street, one block south of Washington Square Park between Thompson and Sullivan Streets in Manhattan.

Edible Garden Exhibition Celebrity Chef weekend at the New York Botanical Garden’s Edible Garden exhibition with Mario Batali, Todd English, and others. If Batali tells me to eat my garden, I will eat my garden. When: Saturday, 12PM-6PM. Location:New York Botanical Garden.

SLOPPY DRUNKS Brunch wars begin, and lead to a night of serious debauchery.

Day & Night Brunch at the Plaza Hotel Team Day & Night bring the party to the uptown set. When: Saturday 12:00 – 6:00pm. Location: Plaza Hotel.

Brunch @Lavo Lavo brings the high end Vegas/NY service schtick north of to 58th street, entering the lucrative and crowded brunch fray. When: Saturday 12:00PM-6:00PM. Location: Lavo.

…and just across the street…

Tao’s 10th Anniversary Party Somehow, something old enough starts to become cool again, at least that’s what I’m thinking. DJ Ross One will spin next to that giant Buddha statue. When: Saturday, 9PM. Location: Tao.

MUSIC Get low.

Los Campesinos!, Byrds of Paradise, Johnny Foreigner. When: 8:00 PM $20. Location:Music Hall of Williamsburg.

King Khan & The Shrines, Gentleman Jesse & His Men, Golden Triangle When: Friday 7:00 PM $15. Location: Santos Party House .

Small Black, Phonetag, We Are All Romans When: Friday 9:00 PM $8. Location: Shea Stadium.

Deerhunter, Real Estate, Casino Versus Japan When: Friday 6:00 PM $20. Location: Webster Hall.

Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan, Willy Mason When: Saturday 8:30 PM $20. Location: Bowery Ballroom.

Apache Beat, MINKS, Von Haze, Wise Blood When: Saturday 11:00 PM $5. Location: Cameo Gallery, 93 North 6th Street, Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

The Heavy, Mayer Hawthorne, and the County, Childish Gambino When: Sunday 7:00 PM $20. Location: Bowery Ballroom.

Where Celebs Go Out: Mario Batali, Mayor Bloomberg, Danielle Staub

Mario Batali at the opening of Eataly: My favorite places to eat are generally downtown in the Village: Pearl Oyster Bar, Spotted Pig, Grand Sichuan. My favorite thing to eat is anything anyone else makes! Da Silvano has an octopus salad and octopus grill that’s really beautiful. ● Mayor Mike Bloomberg at the opening of Eataly: There are 20,000 restaurants in New York City, and I try to eat at every single one of them. ● Alex McCord and Simon van Kempen at GLAAD Summer Rooftop Party: wd-50, and in Brooklyn, Pacifico, the Mexican restaurant on Pacific St.

Drew Nieporent at Travel + Leisure‘s World’s Best Awards party: Restaurants that are owned my friends—Jean Georges, Daniel, Mario Batali, the usual suspects. And El Bulli in Barcelona. My favorite dish is anything that Mark Ladner makes at Del Posto. ● Bethenny Frankel at GLAAD Summer Rooftop Party: Trump Soho, Abe & Arthur’s, STK. ● Johnny Weir at GLAAD Summer Rooftop Party: Cipriani Downtown has the most amazing vanilla meringue cake. ● Tinsley Mortimer at her handbag launch party at Samantha Thavasa: Avenue and the Biergarten at the StandardBryan Greenberg at G-Shock’s Shock the World launch party: The corn, the tacos, and the margaritas at La Esquina. ● Danielle Staub at G-Shock’s Shock the World launch party: Cafeteria for the little sliders, the mac and cheese. For dessert, their Everything But the Kitchen Sink. ● Lamar Odom at G-Shock’s Shock the World launch party: Roscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles. ● Mick Rock at the Marc Ecko Cut & Sew fall collection launch party: Kenmare. ● Richie Rich at the Marc Ecko Cut & Sew fall collection launch party: At the The Lion, the champagne’s my favorite. I like the atmosphere and the food’s amazing. The energy’s amazing at the Boom Room Room.

Three Observations on the Grand Opening of Eataly

After months of anticipation, Italian mega-market Eataly has finally opened its doors in New York. At 50,000 square feet, it’s a specialty foods colossus like no other, with everything from seafood to spumoni on sale in various in-store boutiques, as well as a half-dozen or so restaurants where you can sample the goods without leaving the premises. In a city and country where bigger is better until things reach a tipping point (Lehman, GM…) this undeniably bold foray into the fancy bites business prompts all sorts of questions. Having spent the better part of two lunch hours wandering Eataly’s shiny floors and perusing its endless offerings, I’ve got a few thoughts on what it all means.

Eataly Observation #1: The Recession is Over

Yes, a headline in today’s Times says the same thing, but I was going to write this even before I saw it. Both days I visited Eataly, the place was absolutely mobbed, and not just with empty-pocketed gawkers either. Its restaurants were filled to capacity, its fish mongers, pasta makers, and vegetable butcher (really) were chopping and grinding at a furious pace, and its registers were ringing up purchase after purchase. Of course, most customers were of the young-ish, urban professional variety, but a year ago half of them were sipping Cup-a-Soups in the unemployment line, so either they’re racking up ridiculous amounts of credit card debt to buy handmade farfalle, or there’s a bit more cash to flash these days.

Eataly Observation #2: They’ve Figured Out How to Make Expensive Seem Cheap

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a ridiculously cheap man, but stores like Eataly do an amazing job of getting me to pry open my billfold. It’s all a matter of perspective. Yes, $20 for a hunk of Gouda or a $40 bottle of olive oil is pretty dear when viewed in isolation, but it’s a bargain compared to what you’d pay to enjoy them at the upscale restaurants – like those in Mr. Batali’s empire – where they’re normally served. You’ll pay a fraction of that to enjoy all that artisinal prosciutto at home, and you can stuff your face with it like you never could in public. In case this price comparison doesn’t automatically occur to you, Eataly is seeded with fancy restaurants to make it obvious. Go ahead and browse the menu at Manzo, the fanciest of the in-store eateries, and see if that prime cut of ribeye you passed on at the butcher’s counter suddenly seems a bit more affordable. Eataly also has an impressive selection of fancy bottled beers that I am powerless to resist.

Eataly Observation #3: Italian is the King of All Cuisines

Remember that Spanish food craze of a couple of years ago? All these cookbooks and magazine articles came out touting the rise of Iberian cuisine. Mario himself hit the roads of Spain with Times writer Mark Bittman, Spanish perfect-woman Claudia Bassols, and Debbie Downer actress Gwyneth Paltrow for a Mercedes commercial show called Spain … On the Road Again. But it was all an exercise in tilting at windmills – and maybe an attempt to create a market for future restaurants. Sure, Spanish cuisine can be yummy, love that ceviche and paella, etc., but it doesn’t hold a candle to Italian food, and Mario knows it. And when price is a factor, it’s not even close. Italian restaurants feed you well and leave you full and happy. Spend an evening and a C-note at a Spanish tapas joint and you’re still stopping by the pizza place on your way home. Don’t agree? Then just try to imagine a Spanish specialty foods store even half the size of Eataly. Never in a million years.

But it’s not just Spanish food that pales in comparison. For all-around crowd pleasing – both highbrow and low – Italian trumps them all. The only real contender is French food, of course, but it’s seen as a bit too elite, distant, and inscrutable for the aspiring home chef. Anybody can cook spaghetti, and for the harder stuff, we’ll all have fun – and a few glasses of Chiani – learning how.

I have no idea whether Eataly will ever make its investment back. One look at the place speaks to the countless millions spent on design, decoration, and tons of amazing imported food. But the briefest stroll through the place creates an itch that only a half pound of bresaola, three branzino fillets, and some octopus salad can scratch. Mario, you got me. Take it all, because this is how I want to go.

Weekday Heroes: A Carnivore’s Vegetarian Diet

Like most of my friends who are knee-deep in quarter-life crises, I am in the throes of an existential crisis. I’m feeling the overwhelming urge to make a huge change, a more significant impact, and to take control of my life. While I work to educate myself, and my readers, on the finer points of living a healthier, more sustainable life (while still advocating for robust nocturnal habits and a certain amount of Belve intake), I haven’t drastically made improvements in my quest to become greener. But instead of running away to eat, pray, or love, I know the major change needs to be in the way I live my life daily—I need to become more eco-conscious, to totally overhaul my insufficient dabbling. It seems, to many people I’ve spoken with on the topic of vegetarianism and the impact our meat habit has on the environment, that “Weekday Vegetarian” is an insincere trend propagated by celebrities who care more about fitting into their Oscar dresses than shrinking their carbon footprint. But people like Graham Hill, the founder of Treehugger and the brainmass behind the “WV” idea, are striving to lend the movement more credibility.

Graham Hill’s case for Weekday Vegetarianism from his website, Treehugger:

About a year ago, I asked myself a question: “Knowing what I know, why am I not a vegetarian?” After all, I’m one of the green guys. I grew up with hippie parents in a log cabin. I started a site called Treehugger. I care about this stuff. I knew that eating a mere hamburger a day can increase my risk of dying by a third. Cruelty, I knew that the 10 billion animals we raise each year for meat, are raised in factory farm conditions that we, hypocritically, wouldn’t even consider for our own cats, dogs and other pets. Environmentally, meat, amazingly, causes more emissions than all of transportation combined, cars, trains, planes, buses, boats, all of it. And beef production uses 100 times the water that most vegetables do.

So why was I stalling? I realized that what I was being pitched was a binary solution. It was either you’re a meat eater, or you’re a vegetarian. And I guess I just wasn’t quite ready. Imagine your last hamburger. (Laughter) So my common sense, my good intentions, were in conflict with my taste buds. And I’d commit to doing it later. And not surprisingly, later never came. Sound familiar?

So I wondered, might there be a third solution? And I thought about it. And I came up with one. And I’ve been doing it for the last year, and it’s great. It’s called weekday veg. The name says it all. Nothing with a face Monday through Friday. On the weekend, your choice. Simple. If you want to take it to the next level, remember, the major culprits, in terms of environmental damage and health, are red and processed meats. So you want to swap those out with some good, sustainably harvested fish. It’s structured, so it ends up being simple to remember. And it’s okay to break it here and there. After all, cutting five days a week is cutting 70 percent of your meat intake.

The program has been great. My footprint’s smaller. I’m lessening pollution. I feel better about the animals. I’m even saving money. Best of all, I’m healthier, I know that I’m going to live longer, and I’ve even lost a little weight.

Certainly, his colloquial language and cool demeanor make this initiative seem like a rather simple undertaking—but it takes daily consciousness to monitor your own behavior, particularly the behavior of your mouth in relation to your stomach. Explaining to friends and family why you’re not into getting the meat-lovers pizza delivered on a Thursday night, abstaining from your favorite ham sammie at the corner deli, or even figuring out what to make for dinner can be challenging. Then, of course, there is considerable backlash from vegan extremists, who count vegetarianism as a movement that belongs to them.

Luckily, mainstream media moguls are making the transition easier. Mario Batali is publishing a vegetarian cook book, and he adopts the “Meatless Monday” movement in all 14 of his restaurants around the country, while Jamie Oliver continues to raise awareness about what you—and your children—are putting into your mouths. It seems like making a conscious effort—whether it’s perfectly executed or not—might be my answer to the inevitable quarter-life crisis. Now if only I can convince my friends to try this instead another unfunded trip to Italy.

Mario Batali Might Not Pay Employees but He Loves Vegetarians

So, maybe Batali and Babbo partner Joseph Bastianich didn’t pay their employees. We’ll have to see what happens with the lawsuit. Nonetheless, in an interview with SlashFood, Batali told Allen Salkin all his deepest, darkest secrets. Well, not really, but at least he announced another delay in opening the Flatiron food complex, Eataly.

He wants to live in Rome, and only work three days a week. The Iron Chef doesn’t care what you think about Meatless Mondays in all of his restaurants. “It’s just an awareness thing,” he says. “You just shouldn’t have meat for breakfast, lunch and dinner, seven days a week.” Could have fooled us. There will be a full vegetarian restaurant located in Eataly to appeal to herbivores. And now it’s opening on September 23. Start holding your breath!