You know Gene and Julie Gates. Or, at least, you’ve heard them. They’re the husband-and-wife team that used to be the glorious morning voices of 103.7 Lite FM. Now they’ve switched careers and jumped into the restaurant world by opening Battuto, a family friendly Italian restaurant in North Dallas. (“Battuto,” says Gene, “is the base which most sauces are built from. It’s traditionally made with lard and parsley, and you very slowly heat the onions” for extra flavor.)
The Gates’ restaurant softly opened mid-March, and it’s gearing up for a grand opening any day now. Full disclosure: our own Hayley Hamilton helped consult on the wine menu. Here’s what the former radio hosts-turned-restaurateurs have to say about life, love, and the pursuit of good food.
Carol Shih: I’m just in awe of that…
Julie Gates: That we’ve worked together, and we haven’t killed each other?
CS: Yeah, that’s crazy. Working together since 1995 is a long time.
JG: Gene and I met and decided to do a radio show together right away in ‘95, so for the last 18 years or so, we’ve been doing the radio show [Gene and Julie], and that has been a lot of fun, but it wasn’t easy in the beginning. We had a lot of fights and had to go to therapy. [Laughs]
CS: So whose idea was it to open a restaurant?
JG: This one’s. [She points to Gene.]
Gene Gates: Mine, yeah. I had been in the restaurant business before. I was a Director of Operations for a chain of restaurants, and I was part-owner of a restaurant in Seattle that became a top ten restaurant. It was called buddy’s homesick cafe. Once you get a taste of [restaurant work], it’s hard to get that taste out of your mouth. Where we live [Plano], there really aren’t any great family restaurants. There aren’t any places to go when you’re in the mood for really good, family food. That’s what we wanted when we moved down here.
CS: So y’all live here?
JG: We do! We live half a mile from here. We could walk here. We should, but we haven’t.
CS: Who’d you pick to be your executive chef?
JG: Our opening chef is Gustavo Herrera. He’s from Peru. Gene and I auditioned a whole bunch of wonderful talented chefs, but when Gustavo cooked for us, our tongues were dancing. The flavors were like nothing else I’ve ever tasted before. He’s owned restaurants in Peru. His wife is actually an anthropologist who’s a professor at SMU.
CS: Tell me about your pasta.
GG: Our pasta is just going to be special flour and a special egg. That’s it. And it’s worked to a point that it has a great silken texture. The flavor comes from the water, so we’ll have water with a set saline content – they say it should taste like the ocean! – and we’ll use that water to cook the pasta in.
JG: Did you tell her about resting the water and all that? He’s so meticulous. He really wants the food to taste perfect for everybody.
GG: I want it to be the kind of pasta you can’t stop thinking about. When we went to Italy, it was like we’d never had Italian food before. It was so amazing. I’ve never forgotten how amazing it was when it was made with love. So that’s why we’re not using any machines. It’s all hand-rolled.
JG: We’re going to do the best we can to do house-made, but we’ll probably buy penne.
CS: So, Julie, are you mostly working on social media part?
JG: Yes, I was president of my sorority and I was a cheerleader in college so I think I’m just, like, the Social Director. [Laughs] I definitely wouldn’t be here during lunch because to us it’s important that I drive Sophie to scchool every day and pick her up every day. It’s just important to her. She’s eight. That’s what she wants right now. So, I’ll be the face during the mornings. I’m excited, because we have all these people who’ve listened to our show for eight years here in North Texas, so we can’t wait to connect with people in person. It’s really different when it’s over the phone, so yeah, I’ll be handling the social media and that type of stuff.
CS: You’re doing a really good job, by the way. Y’all have so many Facebook followers.
JG: Oh, thanks! We’re having fun. It’s about being real and laughing at our mistakes. I didn’t put up a picture, but today, for example, Gene was –
GG: [Clears his throat]
JG: –cleaning the pizza oven, and he was just going to vacuum it out, I think, and it melted the vacuum.
GG: I really didn’t think about how hot pizza ovens could get. I essentially cooked it. It was going, “Arrrrr!”
JG: There are so many foibles. That’s the stuff I think people want to know about. We’re people. Another example is that pizza oven you can see back there. It’s a wood stone pizza oven. Gene did a ton of research on what brand to get, where to get it, what kind, dadadada, so we finally get the oven, we pay for it, it’s really expensive, it’s traveling long distance, it finally gets here, It’s 2,000 lbs. So we wheel it in here, and it won’t fit through the kitchen doors. It’s too big.
CS: What’d you guys end up doing?
JG: We ended up removing the doors and shaving the frame. Then we had to build it back.
CS: For people just opening a restaurant, y’all seem really chill, it’s kind of crazy.
JG: Maybe in a weird way, working in the entertainment industry for 20 years prepared us. That’s insane like restaurants are insane. But in the entertainment industry, every frekaing second matters. I’m so relieved that i don’t have to stare at a clock all the time. We’re used to dealing with pressure and deadline, and hopefully that’ll translate to how it’ll all come to play in the dining room.
… I think for me food is really important. As a mother, I’m really concerned about what’s happening to our food source. Genetically modified food horrifies me. I want to provide something to our community – not only a nice, joyful meeting place for people to get together – but I want the food to nourish: not just their bodies, their souls.
[To give you guys a taste of the menu, I’ll just quote Julie on the Battuto newsletter: “Some of the most popular items so far have been the Calamari Fritti with Olive Aioli; Beef Tenderloin, Caramelized Figs and Gorgonzola Pizza; Gnocchi Modo Mio; and Seared Sea Scallops with Lemon Risotto. Oh, and you warned us on Facebook and you were right… our 8-year-old daughter Sophia’s Mac and Cheese Pizza is already our 2nd most popular item on the menu!”]