Lidia Bastianich talks holidays, Eataly and her partnership with Mario Batali
Lidia Bastianich has solidified herself as the grandmother of Italian cuisine. The Italian born American celebrity chef, author, restaurateur and television personality loves nothing more than spending the holidays with her family, but she is always hard at work, stretching her culinary talent and kind heart as far as she can.
“I love the feeling of the table and the family being there and the kids running around,” said Bastianich of her family scene at Christmas. “Traditions and food really gives you a strong identity of who you are, identity of a clan of security, you’re part of something.”
Bastianich’s two children are both very involved with their mother’s work. It’s a real family business with daughter Tanya Bastianich Manuali helping with cookbooks and son Joe Bastianich opening restaurants with another famed Italian chef, Mario Batali.
“I’m blessed that my children are in the business so they can grow it and do what they want,” said Bastianich of her legacy. “My love is writing and traveling with my friends and grandkids, who as they get older get more serious about helping in the kitchen.”
Speaking of Batali, the Bastianich-Batali partnership began years back, when Batali had just arrived on the culinary scene.
“Mario was just coming up when I met him. He’s of Italian roots and was a force to be reckoned with,” said Bastianich of the young American chef from Seattle. “He was really passionate about Italian cooking.”
Bastianich was asked by the James Beard Society to be the chef at one of the awards’ dinners, when she decided she wanted to enlist the help of up-and-coming chefs cooking Italian food. Batali was one of them.
“My son, Joe, came to help at the dinner and was one of the sommeliers (he loves his wine), and he and Mario met,” said Bastianich.
By that time, Bastianich already had her successful restaurant Felidia, and she and her son had Becco.
“They met and I knew it would be a good match,” she said of the pair, who together, opened Babbo at 110 Waverly Place in Manhattan.
Perhaps one of the partnership’s biggest empires yet, is the wildly successful Eataly. The 50,000-square-foot marketplace is a miniature Italy in Manhattan, offering everything from fresh ingredients, Italian housewares, cooking lessons and the option to dine on everything from meats and cheeses and pizza to fresh pasta and steak at several restaurants.
“Eataly is growing and it’s a lot of fun,” said Bastianich of the venture, which celebrated its five year anniversary this past August at the New York location. “The World Trade Center location will be open in the spring and we opened one in Chicago two years ago, Sao Paolo Brazil last year and we’re looking at Los Angeles and Toronto. Boston is already in progress.”
If you haven’t had the pleasure of entering this Italian paradise, come close with Bastianich’s latest cookbook, Lidia’s Mastering the Art of Italian Cuisine, a culinary dictionary of sorts, providing everything a budding chef needs to know about Italian food.
“The cookbook is my 10th book and it’s co-authored by my daughter, who had a lot to do with the years of research,” said Bastianich, who simplified everything she discovered and gave it to the audience. “It’s a more comfortable approach to cooking: experiences, techniques, how to buy vegetables and supplement recipes.”
“I’m very proud of it. There aren’t any photographs because I wanted it to be reference book for generations and didn’t want photos to be dated,” said Bastianich.
In keeping with the holiday tradition of giving back, Bastianich spoke of her work with autistic children and adults, and how she cooks with them. She is also involved in a UN organization that does fundraisers for Arrupe College, a community college for Chicago inner city kids that can’t afford to go to school.
“I’m really into opening more Arupes in cities that need them. That’s the project I’m working on now,” said Bastianich. “A lot of the problems have to do with education and I would like to do what I can to help that.”
For more on their restaurants and some delicious recipes, see the following articles: