When you’re a food blogger you pretty much write about a new recipe you’ve tried, or a restaurant you’ve visited, but most of us rarely get the opportunity to speak for any length of time with one of the greats of the food world.
Today I had the pleasure of chatting with Lidia Bastianich. You may know her, as I do, from her TV shows, or her restaurants, or her cookbooks. I’ve met other chefs and food celebrities, and while most of them are pleasant, I haven’t found any of them to have the genuine warmth that they exude on TV. So what a nice experience it was to speak with Lidia, who spent a good 30 minutes talking with me about her restaurants, her favorite thing to cook when she’s home alone, and how she juggles her busy life.
I met Lidia at a book signing for her latest book, Lidia’sFavorite Recipes. She was signing books at my local Fairway Market and at the last minute I decided to run over. Not because I didn’t want to buy the book or get it signed, I just figured it would be a mob scene. Lidia has a great following in New Jersey and I had limited time that afternoon to wait in line. After buying the book, I got on the line snaking through the produce section, chatted with the other waiters, and after about an hour, got to the signing table. Then I realized why it took so long. Lidia warmly greeted me, her assistant snapped pictures, and Lidia signed my book. But never once did I feel rushed, even though there was still a long line behind me and the time for the signing was almost up. I asked Lidia if it would be possible to contact her for an interview forJerseybites.com and gave her my card. She said, “of course, we’ll be in touch.” I was thrilled just to have gotten to speak with her and have my book signed, but didn’t really hold much faith in hearing from her. After all, she is one of the most famous and busiest food personalities in the world. But true to her word, a few days later I received an e-mail from her PR assistant initiating the interview. Needless to say, I was pleasantly surprised!
So, now, on to the interview. As I mentioned above, we covered a wide range of topics, but started with the new book. I noted that this book seemed more personal than the others, and wondered what her vision was for this book. She said this book just flowed from the heart, and it is a summary of all her books up to now – this is the one that pulls it all together. Asking her about the one takeaway she’d like readers to have from this book, she said that people who don’t think they can cook, would be surprised at the results. Take this book and make it your own!
I was interested in how she juggles this busy life – TV, restaurants, cookbooks, travel – and her answer was so simple. This is “my life, I love it.” Her children work with her in the businesses, and they are getting the grandchildren involved, too. In fact, one of her grandsons was at the book signing helping her. She also stressed that she has wonderful, competent people around her, who’ve been with her for awhile. That is the key – she doesn’t view this as work, it’s her life.
We moved on to restaurants and we talked about how each restaurant is different. When thinking about opening a new restaurant, they look at the area, where is the culinary world in that city, obviously the real estate market is important. Lidia and her team build restaurants that reflect the chef who is cooking there, even better if the chef is local. They seek out the food artisans to bring in local flavor, but more importantly, they settle into the city, they don’t take over. The restaurant reflects the fabric of that city.
Selfishly, I asked about the possibility of a Lidia restaurant in New Jersey. We talked about how even though New York City is 20 minutes away, sometimes you want to stay close. Lidia’s passion is education through books, classes, etc., so unless one of her children wants to open a restaurant in NJ, sadly we’ll have to continue to trek to NYC for her authentic Italian food.
I think everyone who watches chefs on TV wants to know, what do they cook when they are home? Not for family or holiday dinners, but when it’s just them. They’ve got the house all to themselves and it’s quiet. What’s their comfort food? For Lidia, it’s cooking up some garlic, oil, and pepperoncini, and enjoying it with a glass of wine. Sounds good to me.
Lastly, I asked her what she’d like to say to her fans in New Jersey. She said, “New Jersey is vibrant and everyone is interested in food. You’ve got the artisan movement; you’ve got wonderful Italian ethnic specialties, New Jersey is blessed with good stuff. Take that energy, stay local, seasonal, simple, and enjoy the family at the table.” Or as she says at the end of her TV programs, “tutti al tavola!”
For more information about Lidia, her restaurants, books, etc., visit Lidia’s Italy