Lidia Bastianich is the quintessential Italian matriarch. She loves her family, she loves to cook and she loves to share stories about both. Over the weekend, the celebrity chef, author and star of the PBS series, “Lidia’s Italy,” was at Tarry Market, the gourmet emporium, in Port Chester, N.Y., signing copies of her latest book, "Lidia’s Italy in America." And I was afforded the absolute treat of spending a few minutes talking with her.
“I had so much fun making this book,” Chef Lidia told me with her trademark warmth, an attribute that has contributed to her global popularity. “We went all over America and talked with Italian-Americans about their heritage and culture. And food!”
Her enthusiasm is infectious and utterly genuine. As we talked, she happily greeted smiling fans who seemed to have no fear introducing themselves and sharing their appreciation for what she does, further proof of her authenticity.
“Hi, Lidia. I’m a huge fan,” gushed one woman as she sampled some of Chef Lidia’s penne with chunky eggplant sauce.
“Oh, thank you. I’m so glad you’re here,” Chef Lidia smiled as she took the woman’s free hand between hers, before returning her attention to our conversation.
“You know, you lose the language within one generation,” Chef Lidia explained to me. “But Italians just love being Italian, whether they’re in Italy or California. We love food and beauty, and we seem to do it right,” she laughed. “Everything we do just kind of works.”
That much can be said of Chef Bastianich and her family. Her son, Joe Bastianich, is a partner of gastro-god Mario Batali in nearly all of his culinary endeavors and is a celebrated vintner, author and television personality in his own right. He was also at Tarry Market, along with much of Chef Lidia’s extended family. The whole group seemed so happy and comfortable that it felt far more like a big family reunion than a book signing.
“That’s my son-in-law over there,” Chef Lidia said, pointing to a tall man serving pasta to eager guests. “And these are my granddaughters,” she said, introducing two lovely girls, who have inherited their grandmother’s charm.
The book complements the new season of her show, which highlights her coast-to-coast travels and experiences with Italian-American families. “We’re sharing personal stories, and looking at the ways in which Italian-Americans have added to the fabric of this country, from the wine country in California to restaurants and kitchens in the Midwest. It’s about food and family,” she says.
“Lidia’s Italy in America” began airing on PBS this past weekend, and the accompanying book is set for an Oct. 25 release. You can read more about both on Chef Lidia’s website.
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