Some know him as Molto Mario, others as the Iron Chef. But a select few know him as "that guy with the red hair who just holed out from 30 yards". He's Mario Batali, the clog-wearing, Michelin star-owning celebrity chef who also happens to be a huge golf nut. This fall he's got a new show airing on PBS called "Spain … On the Road Again," where he and Gwyneth Paltrow travel around Spain with other celebrity foodies on a culinary/cultural road trip. It's a tough life. We talked to him about the Ryder Cup, the best clubhouses in the world and what kind of wine Tiger Woods would be.
MAG.COM: You ate your way around Spain for the new show, did you take clubs?
BATALI: Of course. I probably played at least ten courses. I played a course in Spain called the Artxanda Golf Club designed by Jose Maria Olazabal. Multi-levels, water on every hole, it was like playing a Roger Dean-designed Yes album cover. I shot a 90, but I was reeling from how miraculous the design was.
Was that the first time you'd played golf in Europe?
No, I've done golf tours in Spain, Ireland and Italy over the last few years.
What are the differences between courses in those countries?
In Ireland the courses all have a cart path that runs straight up the middle, suddenly you realize that that's the fairway. In Spain they're a bit more wide open, more links-y. In Italy, they're all completely empty. Besides the wild grass and weeds on the course, you'll probably play alone.
How you ever played in Kentucky?
(Laughs) Nope, never been to Valhalla.
How often do you play and what's your handicap?
I play at least once a week and right now I'm at a 13.
Are you a hook or slice kind of guy?
Let's call it a fade. Like a slice, but far less drastic.
Do you play with other chefs? Who is the best golfer you know that is also a chef?
Yes, I do. Michael Schlow is probably the best. He owns a restaurant in Boston called Radius. He definitely has skills on the links.
What's your funniest story from the links?
Jimmy Fallon and I play regularly at the Bayonne Golf Club in Jersey. He's eighteen holes of fun. Any time we play he has moments of brilliance, but also moments of utter catastrophe.
How about the kitchen?
We had Kirsten Dunst back in the kitchen once for about an hour—that was fun. Let me just say this, with all the eyes on her, I wasn't surprised the food was coming out a little slower that night.
Some sports are known for food: football and tailgating, baseball and hotdogs, what kind of food goes with golf?
It really depends on the venue. Some places have some really fascinating traditions. At The Masters they have these little onion sandwiches. Those are interesting.
If you were to sneak a drink on the course (not that anyone ever does this) what would you take with you?
That depends on what time of day it is.
What time of day is your favorite to play?
In the morning, so I'd have to take a Bloody Mary … and a couple Coronas, just to, you know, clean that acidic tomato juice taste out of your mouth.
The best clubhouse you've ever eaten in?
The restaurant at the Royal Mougins course in the Cote d' Azur region of France. That place was grand, a truly gorgeous dining room that overlooks the course.
A lot of people are predicting the Americans to break their Ryder Cup losing streak this year. Do you think they will do it? Why?
I like the Americans this year. I think with Tiger out it allows some of these younger guys to get some camera time. For once, everyone won't be following one person around. Everyone loves Tiger, and they rightly should, but these other guys are going to surprise.
If Tiger were a bottle of wine, what would he be?
A '74 Barolo. The best wine from the best vintage in Italy's most renowned region. It's big and powerful, but has a lot of finesse.
Miguel Angel Jimenez's only requirements for the team room in the Ryder cup were "Rioja wine, an espresso machine, and cigars." Would you suggest some specifics for him?
For the wine I'd say a Rioja from a bodega called Muga, espresso made with a Nespresso machine, and, of course, a Churchill cigar.
What trio of goodies would you recommend that the American's keep their players' room stocked with?
Some sort of high-protein breakfast, barbeque, and a native Kentucky bourbon.
There is this dichotomy, helped out with the Cup in Kentucky this year, that Europeans are more continental and the Americans more countrified. Do any of the parallels between European and American wine also work as analogies between European- and American-style golf?
In America we have what are called "allocated wines." They're wines that are very difficult to procure and can cost anywhere from $1,000 to $10,000 a bottle. Normally it's Wall Street that buys them all up, but with things the way they currently are, a lot of people are keeping a close eye on how these wines will fare. That's a lot like American golf right now … I think they'll be fine.