Lidia Bastianich is an Emmy-winning television host, a successful chef and restaurateur, and a best-selling cookbook author. She made her name by introducing American diners to the dishes of her Italian childhood.
Bastianich spent the first 10 years of her life with her grandmother in Croatia. “I was grandma's little helper sort of running things,” she says. “I grew up in that setting of food you know, cooking with grandma, feeding the animals.”
But Bastianich was separated from her grandmother rather suddenly. Luckily, she took some of the cooking skills she’d learned with her.
“Food became kind of a connector for me. I got in the kitchen and just like I did with grandma, I repeat the flavors, the aromas that I recalled from grandma. And I think that that was my connection to food and food became my passion, my connector, and it gave me comfort — and it still does,” Bastianich explains.
In 1971, Bastianich opened her first restaurant in the U.S. with her husband. It was just nine tables and Bastianich served as the sous-chef. She eventually returned to Italy to perfect her craft. Then, in 1981, she opened Feldia in Manhattan, where she served as head chef. “I was a young woman chef cooking Italian food because I felt that I should be cooking the original food of Italy, the food that we ate at home,” Bastianich says.
But it wasn’t just the food she took pride in. Bastianich was a trailblazer for other women working in restaurants. She says there weren’t a lot of women in important positions in restaurants at the time, so she hired as many women as possible. “I said, 'Forget the gender issue. Think about the profession and invest in yourself and be the best that you can at what you can do,' " Bastianich explains.
Bastianich’s latest cookbook, Felidia: Recipes from My Flagship Restaurant, is sophisticated yet accessible. She says of the book, “I went retro back to the simple recipes and made it quite accessible and doable for a home cook.”