Joe Bastianich reveals restaurants' dark secrets, talks lawsuit

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By Vidya Rao and Vidya Rao

Comparing maître d’s to hookers, targeting a chef as a “withering d-----bag,” and castigating a well-known Italian chain restaurant for serving “sh—olive oil” — restaurateur Joe Bastianich is taking a page from Anthony Bourdain’s book to write his own.

Bastianich, who partners with celeb chef Mario Batali and co-owns six New York restaurants, spoke to TODAY’s Matt Lauer about his new book, “Restaurant Man,” which is part memoir and part expose. In it, Bastianich tries to do for the business of running a restaurant what Bourdain did for the back of the house in his book “Kitchen Confidential. ”

“The stories of wine lords who trade wine on intimidation or food critics who trade free meals for reviews … those are the stories of my life,” Bastianich told Lauer, while insisting that the book isn’t about settling scores. “I am telling the stories of my life in a true way.”

Already, at least one of Bastianich's targets isn't happy about how he was characterized in the book and is firing back. Esquire food critic John Mariani calls the author"vile" and "duplicitous" for the harsh words Bastianich had for him in "Restaurant Man," according to the New York Post

Bastianich didn't name names during his TODAY interview, but did give a taste of what's in his book. In it, he breaks down the roles of various employees, and writes frankly about, well, how they take your money.

“The skills of a maître d’ are the same skills a hooker has — to please the clients … Make them feel like they’re the only one,” Bastianich writes. “Extract as much money as you can.”

He goes on to say that bribing maître d’s is common practice. (After all, not everyone has the star power of Matt Lauer.)

“Matt, you go to a restaurant… you do a little air kiss, you get brought to the best table in the house as everyone else watches,” Bastianich said. “For everybody else, there’s a price — $50 gets you noticed. It’s a relationship between you and the restaurant.”

Bastianich also discussed the lawsuit that got him and partner Mario Batali noticed in an undesirable way. In March, the duo settled a class-action lawsuit by restaurant workers – including more than 1,000 servers, busboys and bartenders – who said that portions of their tips were unlawfully confiscated and alleged that Batali kept the money for himself.

“[It’s] not true,” Bastianich said in regard to skimming tips. “It’s a scourge in our business, and we settled a class-action suit as a business decision so we could move on, and it’s diffused throughout our industry and an unfortunate thing.”

In addition to knowing the ins and outs of the restaurant world, the Queens-born businessman also owns a wine shop and co-founded two wineries in Italy. His wise words on wine?  No bottle costs more than $5 to produce.

“Essentially, wines are fermented grape juice, so I’m trying to make the point that the wine world is about scores, and marketing and kind of creating a scarce resource where they don’t really exist,” he told Lauer after sipping on a glass of his own $30 bottle. “You can enjoy a $15 bottle of wine as much as you can enjoy a $100 bottle of wine. That’s why we’re in the business – to save bad wine from happening to good people like you, Matt.”

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