Updated 7 hours ago
When celebrity chef, author and restaurateur Lidia Bastianich celebrates, two ingredients are a given: large gatherings of family and friends and food – lots of hearty, delicious Italian food.
She’s had a few good reasons to party the last few years, including the 15th anniversary of her Lidia’s Pittsburgh restaurant in 2016 and her 70th birthday in 2017.
In 2018, she celebrates a lifetime of world travels, home-cooked meals and special people with the launch of her memoir, “My American Dream: A Life of Love, Family, and Food” (Alfred A. Knopf, $28.95).
Her friends and patrons of her Lidia’s Pittsburgh restaurant in the Strip District are welcome to join the celebration at “Lidia’s Memoir Dinner” from 5-9 p.m. June 26. Bastianich will be on hand to greet guests and share some of her favorite dishes in a specially prepared dinner menu.
Her latest book, which joins her catalog of more than a dozen cookbooks and children’s books she has written, tells of her early years living with her family in Istria under communism in Yugoslavia, until they fled to Italy and in 1958, emigrated to the U.S., where she lived in North Bergen, N.J., and later settled in Queens, N.Y.
The importance of family roots
Bastianich says she feels it’s important for people to know where she came from and how she got to this country.
“It feels to me like the right moment to tell my story,” she says. “Most people don’t know that I was a refugee. When my parents decided to seek a better life for us, we had to leave everything behind. We spent two years in a refugee camp.”
When they arrived in New York, “we arrived with almost nothing,” she explains. “Today I have achieved more happiness and success than I ever thought possible. I really have lived the American dream, and I couldn’t be more grateful to this country for the new life it gave me and the opportunities it offered us.”
She credits her Grandmother Rosa and her Aunt Nina in Italy for teaching her about cooking and giving her a love for procuring food by growing fresh vegetables, picking fresh fruit, milling grain and making wine.
Simple and fresh flavors
“There was a simplicity and a freshness in the flavors and aromas of those food products that influenced me greatly and are forever embedded in my flavor memory. When I cook today, I still search for those flavors,” she says.
Bastianich is the chef/owner of four acclaimed New York City restaurants: Felidia, Becco, Esca and Del Posto, in addition to Lidia’s Pittsburgh and Lidia’s Kansas City. She also is a partner in Eataly, an artisanal Italian food and wine marketplace located in New York, Chicago, Boston, São Paulo and Los Angeles.
She is founder and president of Tavola Productions, an entertainment production company, and also has a line of pastas and sauces called Lidia’s. Her son and daughter, Joseph and Tanya, are involved in the restaurants and her other businesses.
Family is very important to Bastianich, who stresses the value of sharing meals together.
“The table is the perfect place for the family and friends to gather, eat and talk,” she says.
“While enjoying and sharing food, the table is the best place to communicate and share ideas and emotions as well.”
She dedicates her memoir to her five grandchildren, Olivia, Lorenzo, Miles, Ethan and Julia, who have joined her in the kitchen on her PBS television shows.
“You are the products of my parents’ hopes and dreams for a new beginning,” she wrote. “You have my unconditional love and blessings. Go forth, flourish and help keep this great country of ours great. Our life here began as Italian immigrants but we are all proud Americans.”
Candy Williams is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.