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July 21, 2017

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Talking 10 years in Las Vegas and building Eataly on the Strip with Mario Batali

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Tom Donoghue/DonoghuePhotography.com

A Taste of Italy with Mario Batali at the Palazzo on Saturday, June 1, 2013.

Mario Batali is coming to town. It may not seem like it, but it’s already been 10 years since the orange-haired, orange Croc-wearing celeb chef opened his first restaurants in Las Vegas, now B&B Ristorante and Otto Enoteca & Pizzeria at the Venetian.

Appropriately, he’s ready to celebrate. A special one-night-only dinner showcasing classic dishes from both Italian eateries is set for April 14, starting with hors d’oeuvres and bubbly on Otto’s bustling patio on the Grand Canal Shoppes’ St. Mark’s Square and continuing with a four-course feast at B&B just downstairs on Venetian’s restaurant row. (Depending on how much of the event you want to attend, tickets range from $50 to $175 and if there’s any left, grab them here.)

Ever the multitasker, Batali will be bringing the TV crew from ABC’s The Chew to capture some of the Vegas culinary action, too. We caught up with him for a call from his home in New York to talk about the special occasion and what comes next for him in Las Vegas.

Has it been a decade already? That’s a long time. It is, especially in Vegas. Things move quick.

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The Books for Kids/Mario Batali Foundation Library opens Tuesday, March 29, 2016, at Acelero Spring Valley Learning Center. Batali is pictured here with Mayor Carolyn Goodman.

How has your perception of Las Vegas changed since you opened these first two restaurants on the Strip? Back then it seemed like maybe it was just a celeb chef place to park your butt for what seemed like a quick, good deal. Now it is truly a gastronomic paradise, with real people, real roots and real restaurants. No one looks at it as just a tourism thing anymore. Wolf[gang Puck] and Emeril [Lagasse] got in there early and they’re still thriving, and just about everyone I know wants to do business out there now. Vegas used to be only about going gambling, and now it’s about gastronomy, music, theater … it’s kind of like New York.

How important is it for your Vegas restaurants to establish their own identities? We came out there trying to make sure we didn’t confuse people, nor did we want to create carbon copies of something from somewhere else. We started with Enoteca San Marco and now it’s called Otto because we realized no one knew what that meant. And B&B is not a copy of Babbo [in New York], it’s its own variation. And then Carnevino is something we’ve never done before, anything like that anywhere else. So it’s about consistency in product, and messaging that we’re doing something unique and very Italian, but in this case more Nevada-y than anything else.

We heard you’re about to renovate B&B. Yes, we’re excited after 10 years to do it. We’re going to sort of put some cooking down on the floor, make it a little more light and feel a little more bar-y and casual, but the food will be the same kind of Batali-Bastianich stuff. You know what you’re getting, and maybe it’s not recognized as a born-in-Italy dish but Italians will taste it and know it’s authentic through its simplicity and purity. And we don’t really have a date to start [renovations] but it will be in the next eight months, I’m pretty sure.

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The 2015 Carnival of Cuisine hosted by Mario Batali on Friday, June 5, 2015, at Palazzo.

The Eataly experience is finally coming to Las Vegas, as part of the wholesale revamping of the Monte Carlo. How will the Vegas version of this massive Italian food destination be different? Well, Eataly really started in America six years ago, and it’s had his eyes on a lot of things. What will be crucial in Vegas in making it able to expand and contract without looking like it. When the cement pourers’ convention is in town, you need a lot more seats than the Tuesday after they leave, right?

But it’s going to be restaurants and markets, still with the fundamental message that we want you to cook at home. You taste while you’re there and you take it back to your house, whether you’re going home to Peoria or driving back to the suburbs. We’re really courting locals.

Eataly and the coming NoMad Restaurant and new-to-Vegas restaurants like Momofuku and Carbone seem like they are taking Vegas to the next level, upping our cool food quotient. Is Vegas getting more competitive? I would say yeah. It’s just like it is for New York City. In small towns you have to compete against others, but in Vegas you don’t worry about beating anybody. There’s gonna be people. You just take advantage of every opportunity you get so they come back. And they all go to the new place. Everyone went to Buddy Valastro’s [Buddy V’s] restaurant for a while because you have to try the new thing, but they came back. Mario Carbone is out there now, and [David] Chang … these things come and everyone goes, and at the end of the day everyone perceives authentic, delicious value in certain places and they hold on and stay. There’s value in Vegas at the Robuchon price point and at the Momofuku price point and with the cacio e pepe [pasta dish] at B&B.

So is this going to be a big party for your 10th anniversary in Vegas? We’re gonna have a good time. It’s a party we really get to enjoy. And I’m bringing The Chew film crew out and we’re going to do some different pieces—a segment in the beef aging room at Carnevino, a segment at B&B Burger, a segment on pizza at Otto, we’re going to grill some steaks … it’ll all be on The Chew in the coming weeks.

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