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Joe Bastianich owns over a dozen restaurants, a few wineries, and will be starting his fourth season this year as a judge on the hit culinary competition show: Master Chef. Joe spoke with us about everything from his participation as a spokesperson for Walmart's “Blueprint To Quit,” a program that helps smokers quit, to his recent memoir.
TheCelebrityCafe.com: Can you tell me about the 'Blueprint to Quit' program?
Joe Bastianich: I was quite a heavy smoker. It’s a particularly poignant story because I make my living tasting food and wine, the smoking rate is so high.
TCC: Why do you think so many people in the food industry smoke?
Joe Bastianich: It’s the type of hours you keep. While everyone is socializing, you’re keeping late hours, stress, all kinds of of things that are bad for your health.
TCC: How long has it been since you quit smoking?
Joe Bastianich: I quit almost 13 or 14 years ago. It was probably the most difficult thing I did in my life. If I can tell my story, its important. Quitting smoking is essential.
TCC: Now let’s say I were a smoker who wanted to quit, how can I lead a healthier lifestyle?
Joe Bastianich: For me, changing the whole way I live was part of the transition. We need to eat less processed foods, shopping every day, not for the week, eating less saturated fats. You gotta leave the cigarettes behind while changing your diet. Exercise also can stimulate you, and can supplant the stimulant of nicotine.
TCC: What types of food would you recommend?
Joe Bastianich: Things like taking out fatty beef, and eating a lot of beans, and a lot of vegetable based soups. And I think pasta, especially if you keep portion control, can give you a lot of satisfaction.
TCC: Switching topics to your culinary career, what is it like being a judge on Master Chef?
Joe Bastianich: It's kind of a huge task to go from hundreds of thousands of contestants down to one, but it’s also a lot of fun. We get to see the landscape of foodie-ism in America. It’s an amazing opportunity and responsibility.
TCC: What is the most difficult part of being a judge on Master Chef?
Joe Bastianich: Eating all the shitty food. We gotta see the good, bad and ugly.
TCC:One of the worst dishes you’ve ever tasted?
Joe Bastianich: A professional football player once made us waffles, shrimp, chicken wings - all together. It was one of the most disgusting things I’ve ever tasted in my life.
TCC: What do you hope for this coming season?
Joe Bastianich: We are in our fourth season now, we have to evolve the format of the show. You’ll see more of Christine [the winner from last season], this season. Christine was an amazing person and chef. We were lucky to have her.
TCC: Can you talk about the experience of writing and releasing your memoir Restaurant Man?
Joe Bastianich: I wanted to close a chapter of my life. It was intensely personal, very cathartic. I didn’t want to write a press release. That’s not always easy to do - to put yourself out there in a vulnerable way. I’m glad I did it; it was quite an experience. People say: “oh, you made people angry,” but the person who winds up looking the most vulnerable and frankly-bad-is me.
TCC: This year has not been without its share of controversies for you. How have you dealt with the backlash from people you cast in a negative light in your book?
Joe Bastianich: The truth hurts. The fact that it was my story, I can’t apologize for it. It’s what happened and its part of me.
TCC: What’s next for you?
Joe Bastianich: I’m writing a book now "100 pasta recipes under 500 calories each." I am also working on a pilot on a scripted version of Restaurant Man.
TCC: Does your mother, Lidia Bastianich have input on your cookbooks?
Joe Bastianich: Are you kidding me? My mother practically writes the books for me, but she doesn’t do much of the lo-cal stuff - that’s more my specialty.