For me, the food and wine business is continuation of my Italian-American cultural heritage. I love Italian culture and I believe there are two types of people: Italians and those who want to be Italian. Why? Because living like an Italian means attaining that perfect balance of working hard and living well. It’s about proportion. It’s about sensibility. It’s about eating Italian food, the kind-of food you can eat everyday because it’s healthy, it’s approachable, it’s simple. It’s about drinking Italian wine, the most food-focused wine in the world. Anyone can live life like an Italian-get a bottle, get a piece of perfect buffalo mozzarella-these things make a difference, they help make your life better. How? Because living like an Italian means living life in a way that allows you to enjoy it.
I was raised in restaurants, starting in my parents’ Felice and Lidia’s first Italian restaurant, in Queens, washing dishes, cleaning the sidewalk, and touring the jungle-like meat markets of the Bronx. My father was an ultra-pragmatic “restaurant man” who saw no glamour in his business. My mother never came on as a player when they started-she was the cashier, she worked the bar, and kind of stayed in the background. She had a great interest in food and in cooking-she had learned to cook from her mother in Italy, and we made these fantastic trips there every summer that always involved seeking out great local specialties.
As I got older, I began to travel alone and my passion for Italy and its food, wine and culture evolved. After graduating from Boston College, I went to work on Wall Street because I heard that’s what you did if you wanted to be successful. I barely made it through the MBA training program at Merrill Lynch and very quickly realized that the culture of office life was not for me. I needed to return to my passion. I quit my job, ditched my suit and tie, packed my bags, and headed out for a two-year viticultural odyssey through the Italian peninsula. I was a cellar rat, grape picker, waiter, cook, private driver-you name it. I met and worked with the people who embodied the very essence of Italian food and wine culture.
While working and traveling in Italy, I came to the realization that I wanted to be involved in the world of Italian food and wine for the rest of my life. That felt completely right. Twenty years later, I am a partner in dozens of restaurants across the country, an Italian wine shop just outside of New York City, and three wine estates in Italy. I am still passionate about making and enjoying the finest Italian food and wine, and evolving with the times while respecting tradition.
Visit my website: www.joebastianich.com