Having slimmed down from 250 pounds in 2005 to his New York City Marathon-ready body, restaurateur Joe Bastianich is an inspiration for in-shape food lovers and out of shape couch potatoes alike. At the recent Grana Padano tasting that he hosted at his restaurant Del Posto, which he cofounded with Mario Batali, Bastianich demonstrated that you can still indulge while training. How? By demonstrating his system for procuring wine while seated for dinner. The industry veteran raised his index finger and one of the waitstaff, spotting the "Ba(s)t-ianich signal" rushed a glass of Bastianich's own Adriatico whites over without interrupting the speaker.
You can’t blame him for not getting up. Bastianich is pulling an impressive racing double. Last week, he completed the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii, and on November 6th, he’ll return to The ING New York City Marathon. “It was not planned,” he said of the schedule. “It’s not going to be my best marathon ever, but I’ll get through it.”
To prepare for his 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike, and 26.2-mile run test, Bastianich, 43, worked out 12 to 15 hours a week. “It should have been more, but I have a job,” said the man who co-owns Babbo, Lupa, Otto, and the culinary mecca Eataly with Mario Batali. Immediately after Bastianich crossed the line in 12 hours and 31 minutes, he went back to The Four Seasons and began drinking his own white wine and refueling on lobster, shrimp, and octopus at the seafood buffet.
Sporting a slim-fit navy blazer with white piping on the lapels, Bastianich looked every part the athlete at Del Posto. Two-day stubble framed his angular jaw and his wiry legs hid underneath skinny black jeans that didn’t appear out of place at the Michelin-starred restaurant. Bastianich didn’t always appear so svelte.
In 2005, he clocked in at 250 pounds, 60 more than was healthy. He was also suffering from severe sleep apnea. To combat it, he tried the sleep machine, but it didn’t produce the expected results. His doctor suggested he start running and that he change his diet.
“The first day I ran 100 yards, then walked 100,” he recalled. Slowly, he upped the distance: one mile, two miles, five, and then a half marathon. “The next thing I knew I was training for the 2008 New York City Marathon,” he said. “As my endurance for sports got more ambitious, I found my eating habits had to change.”
His habits had been shaped by parents who escaped from refugee camps in war-torn Trieste, Italy, in the 1950s. “I think that once you’ve seen hunger firsthand, it changes you in a way that you’ll never be the same person again,” said Bastianich. “Fortunately, I didn’t have that experience, but my parents and grandparents did and I think that in our world as immigrants growing up in New York the 1970s, the consumption of food was indicative of your social standing.”
Bastianich's mother Lidia, an excellent chef and renowned restaurateur, showed her love at the table, ensuring Joe always had enough and finished his plate. “That was not always a positive thing for me,” he added.
During his physical transformation, Joe stopped looking at food as a reward for a job well done and started seeing it as fuel for his athletic pursuits. That mentality allows him to eat in moderation, despite being surrounded by gourmet food all day, every day.
“For me, it is about eating what I always loved, the beauty and bounty of the Italian table,” he said. That includes carbs, “I am always eating pasta. The simpler the better.” He’ll have spaghetti in a delicate sauce of San Marzano tomatoes, a splash of oil, and shards of Grana Padano three to five times a week. When he has a big run the next day, his energy meal is Arborio rice drizzled with olive oil, honey, and soymilk.
On training rides, Bastianich likes to keep it real and eschews supplements. “When I’m biking, one of my favorite jersey snacks is Grana and almonds,” he explained. “If I’m going long, like a 60- to 80-mile ride, I’ll take two peanut butter sandwiches.”
Since Grana Padano is a hard, aged cheese, it holds up well against the elements and offers a salty protein bite that goes down easier than the chemical-tasting GUs and gels.
While Bastianich eats what he wants, he does sacrifice for marathons. “Normally, I drink a bottle of wine a day, a glass of wine with lunch, and two glasses at dinner,” he said. “When I’m getting close to a race, I don’t cut out wine completely, but I might only have one glass — that seems reasonable, right?"
Those who agree, raise a finger.