Chef and cookbook author Lidia Bastianich may have forged a culinary empire in America but she began her foodservice career as a hostess at the restaurant she and her husband Joe opened in Queens in the early 1970s known as Buonavia. But helping to run the popular Italian-American eatery wasn’t Bastianich’s first exposure to the restaurant industry.
Soon after immigrating to this country with her family from her native Croatia in the late 1950s, Chef Lidia took a part-time job as a teenager at a bakery in Astoria, Queens. At a party to celebrate her 16th birthday, she met her future husband and culinary partner, Felice “Felix” Bastianich.
Today Chef Lidia has come a long way from standing behind the hostess desk at her family’s first restaurant operation more than 40 years ago. She has authored more than 10 cookbooks introducing her audiences to the joys of Italian cuisine and her “Lidia’s Italy” television show has been among the most successful ever aired on public broadcasting stations and food channels.
In recent years she has launched a line of Nonna Foods as well as Lidia’s Kitchen cookware which is marketed on TV. In 2013, she received a Daytime Emmy Award as outstanding culinary host.
Her struggles as a young girl caught behind the Iron Curtain and her sensibilities as a naturalized American citizen — plus her love of food cultures — are what she lends to her PBS special, Lidia Celebrates America: Freedom & Independence.
In the show, she eats barbecue in Galveston, Texas, as part of a Juneteenth celebration and joins fellow chef Jacques Pepin for his annual Bastille Day picnic at his Connecticut home.
She also breaks bread with members of a Filipino family as they mark their homeland’s independence day from their new home in New Jersey, and follows several people as they head toward a swearing-in ceremony to become American citizens.