Every summer, Chef Mario Batali returns to Northern Michigan to summer at his home in Leelanau. The primarily New York-based Batali has built himself an empire, laying claim to twenty restaurants, nine cookbooks, multiple Food Network programs and highly-revered James Beard awards; but when in Northern Michigan, this larger-than-life celebrity chef revels in the simple joys of life Up North.
This year, Chef Mario Batali made a stop at Chateau Chantal on Traverse City’s Old Mission Peninsula upon his arrival, to give a cooking demonstration presenting two new summer recipes. Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine and MyNorth staffer Lindsey Perry caught up with Chef Batali to chat about Lake Michigan swimming and Northern Michigan ingredients for summer.
When you’re back in New York, and images of your Northern Michigan summer are floating through your head, what are the simple memories that stand out?
The first thing we miss is the fact that we can get up every morning and go down on our lake and jump in the water. There’s no fence, there’s no payment, there’s no key, there’s no secret handshake … the lake in Michigan is public and anybody can walk on anybody’s beach all the time. That for me is something so remarkable and so evocative of the freedom that Michigan represents. So just jumping in the lake is one of the great things.
There’s also this place called Barb’s Bakery that does these crazy, glazed cake donuts, and although we don’t eat them every day we eat them at least once every couple of weeks; and that always for me captures what Northern Michigan is.
After you’ve spent the day with your family, hiking around and exploring Sleeping Bear Dunes, what is a simple, favorite summer recipe to prepare once you get home?
Well, we stop wherever we happen to be going by—whether it’s Carlson’s Fish Shop in Leland or whether it’s the Amalgamated [Leland Mercantile Co.] which for some strange reason in Leland has some of the best lamb I’ve ever tasted. Or we stop at one of the farm stands and pick up some cherries or some peaches or some apricots. We take that home and we figure out what we’re going to do, and if it’s fruit sometimes we just grill it and serve it with a little local cheese and some homemade bread; or sometimes we make a quick pasta, or we do some grilled whatever with the fruit on the side, and we’re not afraid to take those cherries and serve them like a relish. You know not grilled, not special, just chop them up and serve them with a little jalapenos, extra virgin olive oil and a little vinegar, and all of a sudden it’s the sauce for whatever comes off the grill.