Lidia Bastianich talks about new cookbook, PBS special
By Miriam Di Nunzio Staff Reporter December 24, 2013 10:25AM
‘Lidia Celebrates America: Life’s Milestones’
4 p.m. Jan 12 on WTTW-Channel 11
Updated: April 14, 2014 4:46PM
Lidia Bastianich is a successful chef, restaurateur, cookbook author and television personality. But what matters most she says, is family, traditions and gathering at the table for a family meal.
Bastianich is the star of two PBS cooking shows, “Lidia’s Kitchen” and “Lidia’s Italy in America.” She has more recently added a series of PBS specials called “Lidia Celebrates America: Life’s Milestones,” the fourth installment airing at 4 p.m. Jan. 12 on WTTW-Channel 11. She says the new series has given her the opportunity to explore how different cultures in the United States celebrate milestones with traditions and of course, plenty of food.
The upcoming episode finds Bastianich celebrating a Greek Orthodox baptism in Astoria, Queens, a Navajo house blessing in Utah, a college graduation amid a Brazilian-American family, and a Sweet 16 birthday party for a French-Cajun girl about to make her Nashville singing debut.
Bastianich recently talked to the Sun-Times about food, family and the importance of traditions.
Q.Why did you decide to do this “Life’s Milestones” series?
A. I have my own PBS show that’s all about cooking and Italy and they actually asked me if I had another idea for a series. I’m an immigrant and America has offered me such great opportunity. It is a country of immigrants That is the fiber that makes American culture so rich. So with this new series I went around the country finding different ethnicities and how they celebrate milestones — weddings, Christmas, baptisms, graduations and how food also plays a big part in enjoying their traditions.
Q.At the beginning of this new episode, you talk about your crush on Elvis. Did you ever get to see him in concert?
A. I never had the opportunity to see him. We were very poor immigrants and my mother would have never spent money on a concert ticket. I used to sit in front of [“The Ed Sullivan Show”] or whatever TV show he was on, by my cousins’ apartment because they had a TV. I loved his voice and he was so handsome! I was trying to be American because I was a 12-year-old girl who was trying to fit in. I didn’t’ want anyone to know I was an immigrant. It’s not like it is today where you can easily just come here and be yourself. It was very different then. It was a melting pot but you had to blend in.
Q.Which of the four vignettes from the PBS special touched you the most?
A. I think being part of the Navaho house blessing. I felt almost guilty because here I am with a crew, taking notes of what’s going on. [The crew had to turn off their cameras for the actual blessing ceremony due to Navajo beliefs.] This land belongs to these people and I felt so humbled by their spirituality.
Q.Tell me about your new cookbook, “Lidia’s Commonsense Italian Cooking.” It’s really a great guide to the basics of cooking with easy-to-follow recipes.
A. I get letters and emails from viewers about how much they connect with my recipes and how cooking empowers them. They love the tips I give them. I wanted to elaborate on all that. Cooking is something that just about everybody can do. It’s so rewarding. People really know much more about cooking than they give themselves credit for. People say I do the recipes their grandmothers did but never wrote down, so now they can enjoy the food that brings them so many memories. I always say get good ingredients and the rest is common sense. Forget about all these modern [pre-packaged] food items. Get back to the source. Touch the food, let it speak to you as you prepare it. It’s very empowering.
Q.What three ingredients are key to any well-stocked kitchen?
A. Olive oil, garlic and basil. They are a must. [Laughing] Of course you should always have tomatoes and dry pasta. And I must have my cheese and prosciutto!
Q.Eataly is now in Chicago. Why did you choose our city for the newest location?
A. Chicago is a great city as far as the energy of its people, people with great curiosity about the food scene We wanted to be part of that vibe.