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Lidia Bastianich Live
Monday, June 18, 2007 | posted by Mike

I mentioned last week that I had a pretty eventful weekend. As you all know, TVFF is a big fan of a number of PBS cooking shows, and there is probably none that we like more than the various series from Lidia Bastianich. Well, we were in for a real treat when we got to attend a live cooking demonstration with Lidia at our local PBS station, NJN. She was there to promote her new series, Lidia’s Italy, and encourage viewers to become members. The public relations folks at NJN were extremely generous and allowed me to attend, and sent along the images you can see here, all of which are provided courtesy of NJN. Photography by Bill Horin. You can click on each one to see the full-sized version.

The event was held on a Saturday evening and I arrived at the Trenton studios to check in at the reception desk. I had a bit of a surreal experience when they found my name as said, “Are you media?” I replied that I was (I suppose) and they invited me in to the soundstage. A delicious Italian antipasto spread was provided, and I took a seat at one of the back tables. The room was filled with VIPs and members who had been invited to attend, so I was trying to keep a relatively low profile.

The production crew was busy preparing the set and Lidia came out to a round of applause and sat in a director’s chair for a short question & answer session. Her first question was where her passion from food originated and whether she had formal culinary training. For her, food was something with which she grew up. In Istria, her family’s kitchen fed seasonal workers and nearly everything was either homemade or from somewhere in a nearby village. Growing up, she was always interested in science and never intended to become a chef. However, she ended up opening a restaurant with her husband in 1971 at the age of 23. She said that she did pursue formal training, but that she went after already owning and working as a sous chef in her first restaurant.

She was also asked about having her family on the show, and she said that it illustrated the “realness” of the show. This is cooking in her real home with her real family. Likewise, she said that her new series, Lidia’s Italy, is real Italy. She also dropped an enticing tidbit…she has another new cookbook coming in 2009. She also said that we can expect Grandma in a couple of upcoming episodes.

Her final question was whether food in Italy tastes different than food here. She said that it does. Part of it is the difference in soil, climate, and varietals, but often that the key difference is the proximity of the source to the restaurant and market. She also pointed out the extent to which Italians pride themselves on their gardens.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to ask my question (it would have been about how she decided to become a TV personality and what is the most important thing she wants her viewers to get from her show), and she was off to sign a few cookbooks before the on-air spots. She walked right past our table and we exchanged a quick smile and a “hello.”

When I tell you how thoroughly nice and gracious she was to every single person in the room, I’m not exaggerating. There were dozens of people speaking with her at one point or another and they all got a smile. Even when she was cooking, and it was clear that she was paying close attention to the food, she was still conversing with fans and crew. I overheard a few crew members talking about how amazingly nice she is.

She taped three 14-minute live segments, during which she prepared three dishes: mussels with oil, garlic and onions (I swear…I could smell it from the back of the studio); fennel, orange and black olive salad; and a Sicilian pesto that included tomatoes and almonds. The cooking segments, which she did with a co-host, were vintage Lidia in a live setting (I’ve seen her do live segments for WHYY in Philadelphia, as well). She does a great job of connecting with the audience while at the same time eloquently talking about the importance of membership and supporting public television.

When it was over, Lidia said farewell to everyone and that was when the really cool part happened. The stage manager announced that the food that Lidia had prepared during the shoot was going to be handed out to everyone who was left. I didn’t need to be asked twice, and I got in line. I was able to sample each of the dishes and the were all fantastic. The pesto in particular was good, with the almonds giving it a creamier flavor than the usual pignoli pesto.

This was amazing. This wasn’t just her recipe. This wasn’t just her restaurant. This was a dish that Lidia actually made. It’s not every day you can say you’ve tasted something prepared by one of your favorite food personalities.

Again, I’d like to send a very big thanks to all of the folks at NJN.



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