For those who follow Italian cooking on public television, Lidia Bastianich is likely a household name. She’s won countless awards including an Emmy as a television host and several James Beard Awards. As a bestselling cookbook author, Lidia is also a celebrated restaurateur (including Becco in New York City, Lidia’s in Kansas City, and a partner in Eataly with numerous locations in the U.S. and in Brazil.) Lidia’s story as an immigrant, entrepreneur, and Italian food connoisseur is an inspiration continuing to unfold. In this Squeeze The Day podcast, learn about her life experiences and how they continue to flavor our world.
As a young child, you left Italy (the Italian peninsula of Istria) and were sent to a refugee camp. Later, you immigrated to the United States and became a U.S. citizen. How do you think that experience shaped the woman you are today?
Life is an accumulation of our experiences and our reactions to them. During communism, life was tough because of course all the restrictions of language and religion and whatever, who we were… Also, food was scarce. I think that part of my connection to food is actually through my grandmother.
I remember cooking foods that my mother cooked with my grandmother and the aromas and all of that. It brings me back to a special place. Those experiences have shaped who I am and my relationship with food. It gives me pleasure now I guess to give food, to make food, to prepare food, and to nurture people because I was nurtured along the way — food was offered to me along the way when there was no food for me.
You’ve become a celebrity through television and food. In your recent PBS special, you featured stories of other immigrants as well as the bonds that form through sharing food and culture.
I have my regular cooking show once a week, but once a year for the last 13 years, I do a “Lidia Celebrates America,” that we co-produce with WGBH. And it is kind of my thank you to America because you see in these years in cooking, food is the connector and I built trust in my viewers. I know they trust me. And so, this year’s special was on immigrants and different ethnicities because there are such discussions over immigrants… Do we want them? Don’t we want them? What do they mean?
Why was now a good time to write your memoir and share the pieces of your life?
As I started talking about where I come from and what I did, people wanted to know more. I did it also for my children and grandchildren as a memoir for the family, but also for my viewers, my friends out there that follow me, so they know Lidia better and I’m very happy to share that with the American public.
In the interview, she proudly notes that her memoir has also been translated into Italian for those in her home country. Bastianich goes on to talk about her early arrival in America and the role Catholic Charities played in her family’s resettlement. She offers encouragement to other immigrants who are escaping difficult lives and living conditions as they bring their different foods and customs to create new opportunities for themselves.
She also discusses the benefits of intergenerational sharing, and how family roots and current-day support help her restaurant and related businesses thrive. Bastianich offers tips for older adults regarding healthy eating practices and shares kitchen hacks to simplify cooking. In addition, she offers a few favorite ingredients to help folks whip up an Italian dish as well as flavorful ways to enhance foods using herbs, and antioxidants to improve our well-being.
The saying from soup to nuts regarding this diva should be from soups to pasta, to restaurants, recipes, and Masterclass programs. Lidia Bastianich is a force in the kitchen, in the restaurant business, and in life … a calming positive, and welcoming force to unite us all through our food and culture. We plan to follow this business-minded entrepreneur with our plate in hand to see what other good things she will be serving up.
This Squeeze the Day is brought to you by the All of Us Research Program from the National Institutes of Health. Learn how you can help change the future of health by participating in the program.
Visit joinallofus.org to learn more.