Special Sauce: Mark Ladner on What It Takes to Make 4-Star Italian Food

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[Photograph: Ken Goodman. Pasta photograph: Beth Galton]

Here's the cosmic question I posed to former Del Posto chef Mark Ladner on Special Sauce: Why did the only chef to earn four stars from the New York Times by cooking Italian food leave his palatial restaurant kitchen to open up a fast casual joint where the pasta cooks in ten seconds? His answer will surprise you.

But you'll have to wait until next week's episode of Special Sauce to hear it, because I thought my conversation with Ladner deserved two episodes. In the first part, we focus on Del Posto, and Ladner answers a whole host of questions in his typically low-key and thoughtful way. He describes how Mario Batali made three books—Marcella Hazan's The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, Lynne Rossetto Kasper's The Splendid Table, and The River Cafe Cookbook—required reading before hiring him. He also speaks about some of the essential lessons he learned from Batali. "[Batali] understands that restaurants and business and life needs to exist at the corner of art and commerce," Ladner says. "If you lose sight of either one, there's no magic."

And what was his reaction to receiving those four stars from the Times? "I went through a really dark time after that. I don't feel like I handled it very well... we were just shocked."

Ladner's path speaks volumes about where food is headed in America, as I think you will find out when you listen to the entirety of our remarkable conversation.

Special Sauce is available on iTunes. You can also find the archive of all our episodes here on Serious Eats and on this RSS feed.

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