I ate at LA’s Osteria Mozza last week, the fancy Italian restaurant run by Nancy Silverton, Joseph Bastianich and Mario Batali. It was an interesting week to be in a Batali establishment since he’d recently been railing against capitalism (or something) saying, "The way the bankers have toppled the way money is distributed – and taken most of it into their own hands – is as good as Stalin or Hitler and the evil guys." Well this is a pretty dumb exaggeration if we take it literally, and at best a rhetorical excess. And of course, the occasional banker has been known to eat in Batali’s restaurants.
This being the case, and because he obviously knows what side his bread is buttered, Batali later apologized, by Twitter, naturally, "To remove any ambiguity … I want to apologize for my remarks. It was never my intention to equate our banking industry with Hitler and Stalin, two of the most evil, brutal dictators in modern history."
Well clearly it WAS his intention, but then he realized he’d been a dolt and regretted it for all kinds of reasons. And I do wonder which other “evil guys” he had in mind. Mao? Mussolini? Milosovic? Ah, those who don’t know history …
There had been some talk that bankers were going to boycott Batali’s restaurants, but L.A. doesn’t really base its wealth on banking anyway, and certainly business didn’t seem to have affected at Mozza. The place was packed, although we did get a surprisingly good table at a surprisingly reasonable time.
I wonder if it was because the Loved One and I were dining with legendary sports photographer and film maker Neil Leifer. He’s perhaps best known for his photographs of Muhammad Ali, some taken while he was still Cassius Clay.
I’ve been digging around trying to find some information about Muhammad Ali’s eating habits. There’s certainly this picture of him being photographed by Malcolm X at what looks like an all-American diner:
But there’s also an interview in Sports Illustrated from 1996 in which he says he adheres strictly to Black Muslim dietary laws, even though these apparently conflict with actual Muslim dietary laws. He says, "Our beans are crushed and mashed and cooked. We eat only whole wheat bread and whole wheat muffins … We don't eat any sweet potatoes, because they're not good for the digestive system … We don't eat lima beans and collard greens; these are hard, animal foods. We don't eat shrimp, catfish, crabs, lobsters, all swine of the sea, and we don't eat garbage-eaters like the hog on the land and the buzzard in the sky. We have a knowledge of these things, and once we start eating Egyptian cooked rice and Arabian baked string beans, carrot pies, squash pies, buttermilk pies, we're not at home with what you whites eat."
I’m not sure I would ever really have looked to Muhammad Ali for foodie advice, though along with Christian Aguilera he has no doubt done good works feeding the hungry in Haiti.
Neil Leifer is a great anecdotalist, seems to have been everywhere and met everybody, and frankly this was something of a distraction from the food in the restaurant. I ate crispy pig trotter with cicoria & mustard, and then rabbit with salsiccia, roasted garlic, lemon & rosemary. I was far too inhibited to take pics of the food but as usual, the Internet proves that others have had no such inhibitions.
The food was pretty great, though savagely priced, and a part of me wishes I could have concentrated on it a little more, though I wouldn’t have missed Neil’s stories for the world.
Eventually he got round to talking about Charles Manson. In the early 1980s Neil managed to get into Manson’s cell and take some photographs of him. Of course, he had to make nice for the course of the visit, and he knew that if he pissed off Manson in any way the meeting would be over. Naturally I asked if he found Manson as Satanic as legend has it. Neil said not. Neil is a short man, five foot six I’d guess, but he’s been around some very big scary guys in his years photographing sports, and he said he didn’t find Manson at all scary. Neil reckoned he could easily have whipped Manson’s ass should the need have arisen. It didn’t, but Neil got some great pictures. Apparently that swastika was fading, so Manson kindly redrew it with a ballpoint pen.
Manson had some strong opinions on food, as well as on everything else. According to one story, when he and the family were holed up in the Mojave desert he let the dogs eat before the humans, then the humans ate the canine leftovers. In his court testimony he also said, “You eat meat and you kill things that are better than you are, and then you say how bad, and even killers, your children are. You made your children what they are … ” As bad as bankers, probably.