In Conversation With … Lidia Bastianich
As an Emmy Award–winning television host, bestselling cookbook author and founder of the hugely successful Eataly, Lidia Bastianich has spent her career bringing true Italian cuisine to the masses.
One of the great rewards of being on television … a long time is that it’s transgenerational. I affect different generations within the same family,” Lidia Bastianich explains, reflecting on a career spent sharing her love for Italian food to homes all over the world. As well as posting videos to her YouTube channel, she has a show on Amazon Prime called Lidia’s Kitchen. “They come to my book signings in three generations — granddaughter, grandma and mum — and for me, that’s very rewarding. They say, ‘You showed me how to make the recipe that my grandma didn’t know how to write down.’”
Recently, Bastianich released Felidia, her first restaurant cookbook containing 115 recipes from her acclaimed New York eatery of the same name. “My new cookbook Felidia is almost a dedication and gift or acknowledgment of the Felidia restaurant that opened in ’81,” she says. “Forty years of a successful restaurant in New York City — that’s something to celebrate. And the book pays homage to Felidia and all the people who have made it what it is. Ultimately, it includes all the recipes we can’t take off the menu, because people love them.”
Having been open for four decades, the food industry has naturally changed in the time since Bastianich started working there as a chef. “At that time, I began cooking regional Italian food,” she explains. “The Italian food known in the Americas was Italian-American, but here was a young woman chef bringing regional Italian food. It got a lot of acknowledgment for that and remained a messenger for true Italian cuisine.”
Alongside the release of her restaurant book, Bastianich has also published My American Dream, a biography which charts her story from Pula, Croatia, learning the art of Italian cooking on the Istrian peninsula to spending two years in a refugee camp before settling in New York. “It’s the story of immigration, not unlike what is happening today with a lot of Italian people here: a trip to a new country, forming a new home and becoming part of another culture … It’s not an easy trek, especially for adults who can’t speak the language, so continuing that message in today’s time is very important.”
Bastianich also loves spending time with her family and does what she can to bring their influence into the kitchen. “First it was my children, but now it’s all about the grandchildren,” she says, after being asked who the favourite sous chef is in the family. “When they’re small, they like to get their hands dirty, then there’s a period they don’t want to know about grandma’s food. Then they enter college and want to know how to cook again. I love having them back and bringing their friends, and how proud they are of what grandma is. I am so gratified at how my grandchildren are proud of me.”
In the time Bastianich has when she’s not cooking or spending time with the family, she is also a philanthropist and enjoys giving back to various communities. “Coming into a city and being part of the city means really getting involved in the fabric of the city. And that means supporting [it],” Bastianich says, talking about the time she’s enjoyed in Toronto. One of the charities she supports here is Villa Charities, an organization that helps provide elderly Italian-Canadians with affordable, high-quality long-term care.