Yesterday, Publishers Weekly briefly reported that Joe Bastianich sold his memoir to Viking. Details about the “as yet untitled” book were slim other than that it will be published in fall of 2012, but our sources in the publishing world tell us he got somewhere between $680,000 and $710,000 for it at auction (editor Alessandra Lusardi declined to comment about the advance). So how did the proposal manage to rake in that kind of dough? Well, we’ve gone and snagged a copy, and here’s what you can expect from Uncorked: Lessons Learned From a Life of Wine, as the working title has it.
First off, there are only 4,000 of Bastianich’s own words here, so there’s not too much to quote. But we can say it’ll be a mix of affecting memoir, à la Blood, Bones, & Butter, and insider spiel, à la Kitchen Confidential. The proposal kicks off with the latter: According to Bastianich, everything on a restaurant’s menu should average to 30 percent profit margins, wine should be marked up four times (useful fact: certain quartinos at Babbo are marked up only two times), and costs should be divided by food (30 percent), labor (30 percent), rent, and other miscellany (20 percent), resulting in 20 percent profit (in the case of Babbo, with its 100,000 visitors per month the profit ends up being $600,000 per year, which is “worth getting out of bed for”).
From there, we’re promised tales of Bastianich’s “life of nearly Romanesque eating and drinking,” adding up to “a culinary adventure that ends with this nice Italian boy becoming one of America’s great restaurateurs — as well as a noted winemaker, bon vivant, street-level philosopher, and eventually, a marathon runner.” In addition to street-level philosophy, “street-level spirituality” is also promised.
So where does this street-level spirituality come from? Well, when Joe was a kid, Lidia and his dad (“a hardcore restaurant man, a real blue-collar restaurateur”) would take him to Italy, and, writes Joe, “I was meeting farmers and all these weird uncles, the guy that took my grandma to the market, the town drunk, everyone. This is where I came from. Sometimes you have to get into the gutter and get ugly.” Then Joe is introduced to the wonderful world of beer: “After being brought up by immigrants who lived through wars and faced starvation, the first time you get wasted is incredibly decadent — it is so far off the course of the values that you have been taught.” Soon after, he becomes a Deadhead (the Grateful Dead “opened up my left wing sensibilities”) and eventually uses his wine knowledge to get in with high-powered Wall Street colleagues who pour $100,000 bottles of Crystal rosé: “Meanwhile, Daniel Belud [sic] was cooking, making something with white truffles. It was too much — the only thing missing was the Ukranian hookers.”
But eventually, he gets sick of wearing $2,000 suits and leaves the Wall Street phonies to open Becco with his mom, and eventually Del Posto. No mention of the 27 former and current employees who are suing the restaurant, but the place’s old landlords are described as “complete pricks, hedge fund assholes who wanted to evict us.” When he opens a place in Kansas City, he’s shocked that “they think the Olive Garden is fine dining,” and in Vegas, he finds out that, as opposed to the supplicant New York diner, the customer thinks he or she is always right. But no matter — “we still tell people in Vegas, ‘go fuck yourself, this is how we do it.’”
If anything is going to become the book’s “no fish on Monday,” it may be “The Five Dollar Bottle of Wine.” “No bottle of wine costs more than five dollars to make,” Bastianich admits before promising to cut through “the bullshit of the wine world.” He’ll also tell how he quit a three-pack-a-day ciggie habit and dropped 45 pounds.
Finally, Bastianich’s sample chapter is about growing up in Queens in the seventies. You’ll have to wait till the book comes out to read it, but let this line serve as a teaser: “My father taught me that the Jews worked in the banks and the Italians worked in the restaurants and that the Irish were lawyers, and you never wanted a Jewish doctor, but you wanted a Jewish accountant, and make sure you have an Italian lawyer.” Street-level philosophy, indeed! And on accompanying his old man to the Hunts Point Meat Market: “I’d see dozens of funky black prostitutes on the corner, naked. I mean really naked. It was unbelievable. Truly a meat market in every sense of the word.”
So there you have it: If none of this leaves you convinced, know that, according to whoever helped Bastianich with the proposal, the book “takes no prisoners when shooting down pretentious foodies, oenophiles, and their sycophants.” Get ready for it, pretentious foodies!