5 Things You Didn’t Know About Lidia Bastianich

The famed Italian chef has quite an interesting life story
Lidia Bastianich
Dreamstime

Bastianich has been a Public Television staple since 1998.

Lidia Bastianich is a staple of public television and one of America’s most beloved chefs, with a series of long-running cooking shows in which she cooks hearty and unfussy Italian classics in an engaging and straightforward way. Her simple stand-and-stir approach is a welcome respite from Food Network’s overwrought cooking shows, and it’s clear from even one viewing that Lidia really knows what she’s talking about. So Tutti a tavola a mangiare! Let’s learn some things about this renowned chef, restaurateur, and cookbook author.

She Was Born in Modern-Day Croatia
Lidia (nee Matticchio) was born in the city of Pola on the Istrian peninsula, which was originally Italian territory but became a part of Yugoslavia just several months before she was born in 1947. After spending nine years growing up under Marshall Tito’s Communist regime there, her family fled to Trieste, Italy, as a part of what came to be known as the Istrian exodus. After spending several years in a refugee camp, she emigrated to the U.S with her family at age 12.

When She Was 14, She Worked at a Bakery With Christopher Walken
Yes, the Christopher Walken. Her family eventually settled in Queens, and for a time she worked at a bakery in the borough’s Astoria neighborhood that was owned by Walken’s father. Walken and Bastianich became friends, and are still good friends to this day.

She Met Her Husband at Her Sweet Sixteen
Lidia was introduced to her future husband, a fellow Istrian immigrant named Felix Bastianich, at her Sweet Sixteen. Felix also left Istria at around the same time Lidia did, and they wed in 1966. The couple opened their first restaurant, a small Italian spot called Buonavia, in Forest Hills, Queens, in 1971. They divorced in 1998 (reportedly over disagreements about expanding the business), and Felix passed away in 2010.

She Learned to Cook In Her Own Restaurant’s Kitchen
When Buonavia opened, Lidia was actually the hostess. She trained to be an assistant chef there, however, and her cooking proved to be so popular that the couple was able to open a second restaurant in Queens, Villa Secondo. By this point, Lidia was beginning to achieve a level of local renown and also began giving cooking demonstrations.

Julia Child Introduced Her to a National Audience
By 1993, Lidia had already run the renowned Felidia (a combination of Felix’s name and hers) for 10 years in New York and had just opened the acclaimed Becco in the Theater District with her son, Joe (who’s now Mario Batali’s business partner). That year, Child invited Lidia to appear on her show, Julia Child: Cooking With Master Chefs, and she performed so well that she decided to focus on opening additional restaurants and launching her own show. In 1998, her first show, Lidia’s Italian Kitchen, debuted on Public Television.

Bonus: Her trademark phrase, “Tutti a tavola a mangiare!,” translates to “Everyone to the table to eat!”

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