“Food is the way I communicate,” said Lidia Bastianich during an interview with The Independent. Today Bastianich is a celebrity chef, an Emmy-award winning television host, best-selling author, and restaurateur. It’s a far cry from her formative years as a child living in a refugee camp before coming to the U.S. and living out the American dream. Now, after decades of introducing Americans to Italian food, Bastianich tells her story.
She specializes in Italian cuisine and owns several restaurants in the U.S., including New York’s Del Posto, Becco, and Felidia. In 2014, she launched her fifth television series, “Lidia’s Kitchen.” She’s also a partner in a culinary mecca, the specialty food shop Eataly. Not to mention her line of artisanal pastas and all-natural sauces.
On Saturday, July 13, she will be the honored chef at this summer’s Hamptons Happening event, a benefit for the Samuel Waxman Cancer Research Foundation.
“It’s such a good cause, such a good place to have it,” said Bastianich of the upcoming event, which will be held at the home of Maria and Kenneth Fishel in Bridgehampton. There will be chef tastings from restaurants with a “Tour De Cuisine” theme featuring dishes from around the world.
“I do a lot of fundraisers, but cancer research we need to be working on it as much as we can . . . so that these doctors can really get to the bottom of it and hopefully find a cure,” she stated.
She noted the Waxman foundation has worked to develop the first successful targeted differentiation therapy for acute promyelocytic leukemia and called it “a great step.”
“We need to support these individuals,” she said of the scientists working to find the cures for cancer. The mission of the SWCRF is to eradicate cancer by funding collaborative cross-institutional research to identify and correct abnormal gene function that cause the disease. This research is the basis for developing minimally toxic treatments for all cancer patients.
Bastianich is no stranger to the East End, and she resides on the North Shore. “I do come out there periodically for visits,” she said. In the past, Bastianich has been involved in East Hampton Library’s Authors’ Night and the James Beard Foundation’s Chefs & Champagne culinary event.
With a dozen cookbooks under her belt, her latest tome is her 2018 memoir, “My American Dream: A Life of Love, Family, and Food.”
“People wanted to know more about Lidia,” she said. And her story is one that many of us could never imagine. “I’m no stranger to adversity,” she described.
She was born in Pula, located on the Istrian peninsula. She learned to cook as a young child by watching her grandmother.
When Bastianich was a young girl, Istria was annexed from Italy by the communist regime. Her family fled to Trieste where they spent two years in a refugee camp before coming to New York. “I come from a part of Italy that is no longer Italy,” she said.
“As a child, I got caught behind communism. Changed my name. I couldn’t speak Italian; we couldn’t go to church. A lot of my freedoms were taken away,” she recalled. “We had to escape.”
While at the refugee camp, she spent time “wondering what the future of our lives were going to be.” In 1958, her family made it to the United States.
“I was 12 years old. At 12, you take on the country and I did with all my heart. I could be who I am. We could speak Italian,” she recalled about arriving in America.
Food opened up the doors to opportunity for her and she stated, “There’s no place in the world that could happen . . . There’s no place like America.”
Bastianich started working part-time when she was 14. She briefly worked at the Astoria bakery owned by Christopher Walken’s father. After graduating from high school, she worked at a pizzeria on the Upper West Side.
Family is most important to Bastianich. Her two passions are family and food. And many of her businesses are shared with her children, Tanya and Joe.
“For us Italians, family is first and foremost. Food is the second,” she said. “We have four generations at the table. There’s nothing better than that for me.”
“When you know that you have the security of the family, when you know that the table is always there and there’s always a chair for you, you can go out and face the world with more strength,” she continued.
To join Bastianich at the Hamptons Happening, visit www.waxmancancer.org for tickets, which start at $425 or $200 for young professionals. Felidia’s Executive Chef Fortunato Nicotra will be preparing dishes at the event.
“It gives me a big sense of accomplishment,” Bastianich said about being honored. “It makes me feel so good that I can finally give back.”
To learn more about Bastianich, visit www.lidiasitaly.com.