Photo by Barbara Kaufman

 

Don’t miss Joe’s recipe for authentic Pasta Puttanesca

One of the most charismatic personalities in the food and wine world, New York-based restaurateur Joe Bastianich has his eyes on a new prize: triathlon. But not just any triathlon. The restaurateur, author, and winemaker landed a coveted spot at the prestigious Ford Ironman World Championships held in Kona, Hawaii on October 8, where he’ll compete as one of the NBC/Ironman television production’s featured athletes.

Bastianich’s life path began at an early age. He washed dishes at his parents’ Italian restaurant in Queens, and traveling to Italy every year from the age of 3 on. Later in life (after a year working in finance), he headed back to Italy to spend a year traveling, working in restaurants and on vineyards, and further exploring his rich heritage. Upon returning to New York, Bastianich teamed up with his mother, chef Lidia Bastianich, to open Becco restaurant.

“Between now and Kona it will be about moderate consumption … a bottle of wine … can slow you down a bit.”

Restaurants turned out to be Bastianich’s opus. Through a subsequent partnership with Mario Batali, his success with them continued to grow. Bastianich is now the less public power behind some of the country’s best restaurants, including New York’s City’s Babbo Ristorante e Enoteca, Esca, Casa Mono, Otto Enoteca Pizzeria, and Del Posto, to name a few. Other New England haunts include Port Chester, N.Y.’s Joe and Mario’s Tarry Lodge and Tarry Lodge enoteca Pizzeria in Westport, Conn. His golden touch extends west as well, with Vegas’s B&B Ristorante and Carnevino, L.A.’s Pizzeria and Osteria Mozza, and the recently opened Pizzeria Mozza in Newport Beach.

Along the way, Bastianich developed an interest in winemaking as well—an interest that led him to buying a Tuscan estate (where he, his mother, and Batali also bottle their own olive oil), and involvement in Argentina and the U.S. He’s become a key authority on Italian wine and food in the U.S, and has received prestigious industry awards from both Bon Appetit magazine and the James Beard Foundation. He’s also a regular guest on “The Today Show” and serves as a judge on FOX’s reality television hit “Master Chef” with Gordon Ramsay.

preparing food

Bastianich preparing a meal in his home/Barbara Kaufman

After food and wine came running, a pursuit that culminated for him five years ago at the New York City marathon. It was a challenge he took up partly for weight loss and to help with medical issues. Years later, he’s proved that the achievement wasn’t just a flash in the pan, and Bastianich made the somewhat common jump from running to triathlon. 

“It was the next step from marathons,” Bastianich told us on a short break during one of his television studio sessions. “I always followed the saga of Kona on TV through the years when I wasn’t even an athlete. I’ve always been intrigued by the concept.” When he started doing half-Ironmans—a distance he said was a “much better day than a full marathon” for him—Bastianich said he “just knew” he had to do the archetypal October race. Even after bagging a 5:40 half in Montauk and a finish at the inaugural 70.3 in Pescara, Italy, he acknowledged that Ironman is a different game altogether.

This October, Bastianich will travel to Hawaii for the first time to try his skill at that game. We spoke with him more to find out what’s on his mind as he prepares.

LAVA: What are you most nervous about?

JOE BASTIANICH: Swimming. The group swim start … the whole swimming thing is just the bane of my existence. 

What did your friends and family say when they found out about your Kona aspirations?

Most of them think I’m kinda out of my mind. A lot of them don’t understand what’s involved with it. Most are impressed with the concept of completing an Ironman-distance triathlon. Some people think it’s a further evolution of my obsessive-compulsive behavior.

Do you have a time goal? 

I do just hope to finish, but a 12 would be great.

Can you talk about how this quote on your website applies to triathlon: “Living like an Italian means attaining that perfect balance of working hard and living well.” 

I think that triathlon is definitely more than a sport. It’s a lifestyle. In the world of 40-somethings that I live in it’s like people want to have it all. I think that living that lifestyle really allows you to have it all … just the nature of the fitness and consumption. You can eat, you can drink, you can work out. Being triathlon-ready requires certain level of fitness. If you can adhere to it, it really moderates your lifestyle and keeps you in that bracket of knowing what you can do and can’t do.

What are some parallels between triathlon and what you do?

On a personal level I think that you have to have a bit of a compulsive personality to do these kinds of things. I think that it’s definitely a more mature person’s sport. I couldn’t imagine doing this stuff before I was 40 years old. Like with business, we have this stick-to-it-ness and persistence and reaching objectives and discipline—all part of being successful.

How on earth do you have time to train?

I’ve been lucky so far. I’ve had good success without the full-on Ironman immersion. I do the best I can—I don’t kill myself, if I can fit the workouts in I do them, if I can’t, I can’t. So far I’ve been able to avoid injury and have some good completion times.

The restaurant industry is notorious for late nights and indulging. Do you try to resist or balance this, and how?

Between now and Kona it will definitely be about moderate consumption. Not because a bottle of wine screws you up, but it can slow you down a bit. If you’re going to have a tight schedule you have to be able to dedicate as much time as you can to the training.

Do you have a coach?

I’ve been doing some training with the Carmichael Group to prepare—Lindsay Hyman is who I work with there. It’s been a mixed blessing, nice to have the support, but if you can’t follow it, it’s difficult. I find there’s a lot of interpreting and making things up as you go along. So far that’s worked, so we’ll see.

What have been some milestones in your training so far?

I’ve done a couple of century rides. A three-hour ride into a 13.1 run, not milestones really but some key workouts.

What kind of bike do you ride?

I have a Look 596 race bike, and a Cannondale road bike.

You’ve had your hands in everything from publishing to wine making to event planning. What are you most proud of, and what do you enjoy most?

Winemaking is really where my head is spiritually. I just really enjoy participating in the cycle of agriculture. Growing grapes and making wine is an incredible privilege.

What’s your favorite way to recover from a hard session?

Playing guitar. 

How are you planning on celebrating after Kona?

I’m going to open a lot of wine! I’m not sure what. I like drinking wines I make, and I like drinking other people’s wines. We’ll drink a lot of everything, there won’t be any shortage.

Don’t miss Joe’s recipe for authentic Pasta Puttanesca