Who Joe Bastianich
New gig Judge on Fox’s Junior MasterChef
Credentials In business, with mother Lidia and Mario Batali, operating restaurants including Babbo, Del Posto and Otto
Fun fact Competed in Ironman Hawaii 2011
You’ve shot four seasons of MasterChef Italia so far. How’s it going?
With Italian contestants—it’s interesting what changes between seasons. Italians are a little bit more polite, a little less insane, and they tend to know their products a little better. But they don’t have quite the diversity and flair of the American contestants.
Is it harder to get drama out of non-Americans?
When you sequester regular people and take away their phones and computers for three months, you don’t have to create any drama.
How seriously do you have to overhaul the show to work with kids on Junior MasterChef, your new show?
We treat the kids the exact same way as the adult home cooks, and they have responded on the highest level. We found the kids to be extremely resilient when faced with a challenge—more so in some cases than the adults.
How much slack do you cut the kids?
We try to be nurturing and help to cultivate their talent, but there is an element of tough love, just as there is with the adults. Being on the show in a way gives them a preview of the real world—not everyone wins. There’s no ribbon for participation. It’s a real competition.
It sounds like an incredibly busy summer. Are you still able to handle the day-to-day of managing and expanding the restaurant business?
Big time. Eataly Chicago is opening, and we’re opening restaurants in Chicago and Boston. And we’re looking to build in mainland China.
Where in China?
Shanghai. It’s 25 million people who hopefully want to eat some pizza and pasta and drink Italian wine.
In Italy, do you get to see all the Berlusconi craziness firsthand?
No, we’re pretty insulated. My show is broadcast on Sky, which is a Rupert [Murdoch] network. We’re not in the wild world of media. It’s much smaller. It was done in a very uncompromised, American style of production. Generally, TV here is pretty shit.
Have you had a good time?
Yeah, I’m the only Master Chef out of the 40 countries [where the program appears] to host the show in two countries. It’s definitely become part of my life. It’s very important to me and to my brand.
To relax, you compete in marathons. Are you seriously still doing this while working on the show?
The next thing I have is the New York City Marathon, which is coming my way. I’ll do a little training here and when I’m traveling, running the restaurant and running in the hills simultaneously.
By “the restaurant,” you mean your new place.
Yes. It’s in the winery itself. It’s called Orsone. It’s our first restaurant in Italy.
How do you distinguish yourself as an Italian restaurant in Italy?
We’re a bit of a novelty; this show in Italy is the biggest show on television. The media around it is huge, so that helps. And just doing things in an American way is a novelty in and of itself.
I’m sure they’ll object to something.
Photo: Elizabeth Lippman