Pots and pans have been rattling with
rumors that Food Network has fired its longtime stalwart
Mario Batali. As the story went, Batali said he wouldn't do
Iron Chef America unless the culinary channel renewed his series
Molto Mario. The network reportedly said no, and Batali picked up his cutlery and left.
We went to the man himself for confirmation. "Not true!" Batali tells TV Guide emphatically. "I'm taping two episodes of Iron Chef America in a few weeks. I'm the best Iron Chef, why would I quit? And why would I threaten the network? Molto Mario's been out of production for two-and-a-half years. [Reruns still air weekly.] We have a fine relationship."
A channel spokesperson backs him up: "Mario is still a major part of the Food Network family," she says.
But Batali, whose empire includes a bevy of pricy eateries in New York and L.A., does admit that the network has changed since the days that top chefs like Sara Moulton and he brought haute cuisine to the masses. "It's much broader based," he says, appealing to college kids who watch it for fun and guys who want menu tips for tailgate parties. That's OK as far as he's concerned. "The Food Network is not just educational, it's entertainment, too."
Batali's next foodie show - which he's making with Gwyneth Paltrow - will air on PBS next fall. "I'm much more about the historical perspective and the artistic roots in culture and food, and PBS is where people want to watch that," he says. Batali and Paltrow start shooting the series, called On the Road Again, in Spain shortly. - Reporting by Ileane Rudolph