Lidia Matticchio Bastianich: 2010 National Book Festival

Uploaded by LibraryOfCongress on 14.10.2010

>> From the Library of Congress in Washington DC.
>> On behalf of the Library of Congress welcome
to the 2010 national book festival.
I'm Joe Yonan, the food and travel editor from the Washington Post.
And thank you for celebrating the joy of reading today.
Before we start, for those of you who didn't hear my caveats earlier,
I just want to make sure you know
that the presentations are being filmed for the Library of Congress,
for the website and for their archives.
Be mindful of that.
Don't sit in front of camera risers to block the cameras,
which I think is that right there.
And please, please take your cell phones, take the on button,
turn it to the off button.
That would be great.
I have the distinct pleasure of introducing
to you Lidia Matticchio Bastianich.
[ Clapping ]
>> I could probably stop there, but I really like to talk about Lidia.
So I'm going to say a little bit more.
First of all, she is one of those few cooking personalities
that needs to go by only one name.
I always love that.
And she really at this point has become, I would say,
America's favorite Italian cooking teacher.
[ Clapping ]
>> She's everybody's mother.
She's everybody's grandmother.
She tells you to watch closely as you stir the pot.
She tells you to make sure you heavily salt that pasta water.
She tells you to cook the pasta until it's just al dente.
Save a little bit of the water for the pasta sauce.
But while she's telling you all this,
you don't feel talked down to at all.
You feel included.
You feel welcome at Lidia's table.
And you can practically smell
and practically taste every little thing that she's cooking.
Her accomplishments are too numerous for me to list here honestly.
I want Lidia to have some time to talk, but she's the owner
of several acclaimed restaurants,
starting with Lidia in New York City.
She's the author of many spectacular cookbooks, Lu Cucina di Lidia,
Lidia's Family Table, Lidia's Italian Table, Lidia's Italy,
Lidia's Cooks From the Heart of Italy.
And all of them showcase the glorious variety,
depth and beauty of Italian cooking.
Her many public television shows
and appearances bring the viewers not just into her own kitchen,
but into the kitchens of her favorite Italian cooks.
And make sure -- I can speak from personal experience,
because I was just there recently.
Make sure that the next time you go to New York, make sure that you stop
by one of her newest ventures with Mario Batali
and her son Joe Bastianich, the huge temple glorious,
hilarious crowded amusement park like temple
to Italian cooking that is Italy.
Lidia has also been honored by the government of Italy, I have to say,
for being such a wonderful embassador
of Italian cooking in America.
I was honored to be at that presentation a few months ago.
She's a guru of Italian cooking in America.
So, ladies and gentlemen, please welcome
to the stage Lidia Bastianich.
[ Clapping ]
>> Thank you.
Wow. Bonjourno.
It's a pleasure being here.
I really enjoy, I do, the restaurants and the books,
but I truly enjoy meeting you, because I know
that on the other side of the screen or all
of my books there is you out there.
And you ultimately connect.
And I'll go back maybe to the whole history,
but when I did my first book --
and my first book is Lu Cucina di Lidia -- it was in 1990.
And I was then a chef of Lidia.
The first restaurant I opened was in '71, for Lidia opened in '81.
And I was, you know, cooking the food of my region.
Now, in '71 when I began cooking, the food,
that was Italian American food.
And by all means, delicious food, but it was not the food that I ate
at home or that was cooked in Italy.
And I dedicated a whole book to that,
to that Lidia's Italian-American Kitchen,
this valiant kitchen of adaptation.
But when I opened for Lidia, I cooked the food
of Friuli Venezia Giulia.
And if you are looking at Italy,
in the right-hand corner, Italy has 20 regions.
In the right hand corner is Friuli Venezia Giulia, right under Austria.
Now it's next to Slovenia.
So the food is almost middle European.
So I cook European.
I cook with sauerkraut.
I make goulash.
I make balanchine.
So here I was cooking this kind of really regional food.
And do I that because I had this great plan?
No. Because it was what I knew.
I came here when I was 12.
That's what we cooked at home when I was growing up.
That's what we continue to cook when we came to America as immigrants.
So as I got really into cooking or whatever, I said,
I'm going to took Italian, but I'm going to cook what I know.
And certainly the press followed, because maybe it was the first look
into not a homogenized Italian cuisine,
but a regional Italian cuisine.
And, you know, those of you that travel,
and certainly by now it's quite evident,
how really different all the regions are.
You know, Italy's smaller than California.
And yet the diversity that lies within its region as far as food,
as far as product is just tremendous.
I keep on going back.
I mean, I'm here since 1958.
So it's 50 years.
So I need to go back.
I need to nurture myself and continuously I explore
and find new things in this little country.
So in 1990 when I opened for Lidia and all the press and everything,
of course, amongst the press there was a gentleman JJ Goode.
He wrote -- he was a writer for Gourmet Magazine.
And he said, "Lidia, you need to write a cookbook."
And so I said, "but I'm not a writer.
I'm a chef."
And at that I am a chef of home cooking in a way.
I always stuck to that.
Even when I went to culinary school, I felt most comfortable,
and I think you all relate exactly to that.
How do you make it at home?
How does it happen?
And I think that's some of the best food anyway.
So he asked me, "how about writing a book?"
And I said, "Well, maybe we can collaborate."
And we did.
And he interviewed me.
And the book is really about that region, because I said, "I can't."
I thought, I said, "okay.
So what am I going to write about?
Am I going do write about what I do as a chef?"
I says, no.
I have to tell them my story, the food, where it comes from.
And so began my philosophy of how do I write for you
so that I can connect so that you really can transport my flavors
into your kitchen.
And the book is still being printed, was the book actually my biography
in short, and the food of Friuli Vanezia Giulia,
that region up there.
From then on I went on two books.
Of course, I addressed the Italian American cuisine.
I addressed the family table, because I think the responses
that I got, especially from TV, is this connection.
Everybody connects to the table or the missing of that connection.
So the feeling, what a table -- I think that a table full of food
with family and friends is magical.
It's a place that you can really connect.
Maybe not enough of it.
And we should really build that ever more.
And one would say, oh, the cooking.
No. Simple food, a nice salad, maybe some pasta, whatever,
will bring people together.
But let me tell you maybe why, because I'm interested in food,
but I'm interested in all aspects of food.
I'm interested in the story, the history,
anthropology, the sociology, whatever.
You know, it intrigues me.
So when you're at the table, now, the one thing that we all must do,
we must eat in order to live.
You must eat to survive.
When you're eating, you're taking in.
Your defenses are down.
You need that food so that you stay alive.
So there's no argument there.
So when you're at the table, when we're at the table, we are relaxed.
Our defenses are down, and we are taking in nourishment.
It's the perfect place to talk.
Why do we have business lunches or dinners?
Why do we do proposals, why do we do special events around the table?
Because it is a special place that we find that we can connect
with each other better, because our defenses are down.
So just this little -- you know, that table is really, really --
especially for young people and for teenagers, if you take a teenager
and you say, okay, let's go upstairs in the room and let's talks
about drugs, it's on the defensive already.
But at the table as you're talking, they're taking all of that in.
So The Family Table was a book that I addressed specifically
because of this, how do you cook for families
and together and, also, cooking big.
You know, there's a lot of work in members of the family,
both members at some time, how do you make, if you're going
to make a pot of sauce, how do you make it larger?
Save it and then that sauce can be turned into the meal
for the whole week almost.
The same with soup, making a base.
So that book addressed that.
And then I went back to Italy and Lidia's Italy and Lidia Cooks
from the Heart of Italy, which is my latest book in the series
that you're watching, is about the 20 regions of Italy.
Lidia Cooks from the Heart of Italy, which is the latest,
is maybe the ten less known regions.
And I think it's fantastic.
And I get a lot of comments from readers and from guests that come
to my restaurant about how they relate to this book,
the regions of Italy they didn't know or the regions of Italy
that their ancestors came from Calavia, Basilicata,
Abruzzo, Molise, all of these.
This is the last book.
Now you say, okay, this is the story of how you got into books,
but how did you get in television?
But let's just go back to the restaurant business as a whole.
So I was very young and in '71 opened my first restaurant
with my husband.
I was not a chef.
I was 23 then.
We hired a chef.
I became his pseu chef for ten years.
And that's where I really got my kind of knowledge
of commercial cooking, but I always retained my personal
of the family cooking.
The children were born.
Joe was born, Tonya was born in the restaurant itself.
And they would come.
My mother, she's still -- those of you
who watch television still see her.
She's 90. She lives with me and she's still involved.
So this sense of unity and maybe family, you know, one would, say,
oh, my goodness, you know, that's so hard.
For me it was -- it's a necessity.
It is the Italian way of life.
And we continued, but it was a blessing,
because I could continue to work.
And my mother would watch the children at night while I worked.
So as the kids grew up, you know,
always the thing is the restaurant is kind of a fun place to be.
You know, everybody's always having fun.
Everybody is always having a drink.
So I said to my son and my daughter when she came, I said, no,
this is not what you want to do.
We came as immigrants to America.
You're going to get an education.
This is the land of opportunity.
And then you can really do whatever you like and move on
and we'll be very proud of you.
So my son went on to Wall Street, analyst, college, whatever.
My daughter went on, art history, PhD from Oxnard.
Ultimately they both worked with me.

But, you know, I think -- and it's a very hard challenge,
I mean, when you're a parent.
And if you're young, you're sort of left steering them or mentoring them
to go and build their life.
When they come back then as adults, as partners,
it's a different challenge.
But I love every minute.
I still do.
And if I am capable of doing what I have, it's because of them
and so many other really competent individuals that I have on my team.
My son got into the business, of course, in the restaurants.
And we are partners with Mario Batali.
So all the restaurants we own with Mario Batali together.
And in Italy we were just talking, that's a partnership
between the three of us and also some Italian counterparts.
And my daughter, on the other hand, when she came back to the states,
she got married, to have children, to be close to home,
I sort of pulled her in, help me do the research,
help me with the books.
So she takes care of a lot of the books and the television
and all of those research items.
So the television.
How did I get into television?
Well, at this other restaurant for Lidia, as I said, you know,
all the [inaudible] would come then for Lidia opening in 1981.
James Beard, Julia Child.
And then all the journalists would come.
And that's when Julia Child approached me and said, Lidia --
"Lidia [in accent] would you do a show with me?"
Well, we did two shows in the Master Chef series.
And I guess the rest is what really what explains how ultimately I got
into television.
The producer asked me, "Lidia, the shows were really good.
Would you consider?"
And I thought about it.
And, of course, you know, I'm a communicator.
I love -- and, you know, just I think, you know,
what I do is something very basic.
I didn't plan it this way.
I love it, but to have the reaction from you
like that just drives me even more.
You know, I need to do more.
And I just love it.
I mean, you're getting energy from me.
I get all that energy back.
And I'm doing what I'm doing because of all of that energy.
I just wanted to share with you that it's a two way street.
I wanted to share with you.
And so I said, yes, but I had two requests.
I said if I could tape the show in my house and if I could be
on public television, because I felt
that public television was the platform [clapping] --
was the platform for what I had to say.
I'm happy to say that I'm still in public television
and I'm still filming in my home.
So the set that you see, that's my home.
And I get up there every morning.
Actually, I left there this morning.
Grandma was still sleeping.
There's no more kids now.
So she was still resting.
But I have begun yesterday the filming of my new series.
So they come in.
And, actually, they take over my whole house.
And it's four cameras and all the controls.
It's great.
And that's going to be for the next series that's coming out next year,
which is Lidia's Italy in America.
And it's about the Italian culture,
the immigrants way back historical and, of course,
ultimately all culminating with recipes as examples.
And I'll be going around the United States.
I mean, I have done tons of research, you know,
how important the different ports, what the Italians bring with them,
I mean, the whole phenomena of broccoli rabe [audible].
Fifth generation immigrants from Sicily, they came,
and they were missing that bitter green.
On the trip back brought the seeds,
because broccoli rabe in Italy grows wild.
And they brought back the seeds, planted it.
And ultimately the story, they sell millions of pounds
of broccoli de rabe, America really loves.
The same with the artichokes.
The artichokes and those -- the big farms out there are still ran
by fourth, fifth generations of Italians.
So I go and explore all of these stories.
And I will be bringing them to you.
That's next year in a book.
But I do have a new project that I want to share with you.
And that is -- which I'm very proud of.
And that is that I have a children's book coming out on October 12th.
[clapping] And then I'll let you ask all the questions,
because I'm just touching things to stimulate you in a way to see
if you have any questions.
The book is Nonna, Tell Me a Story.
And it is the story of a Christmas tree.
It's a Christmas story.
And with my grandkids, they all come over and,
you know, we sort of pile in bed.
And the question is always, Nonna, tell me a story
when you were a little girl.
Now, I grew up in a setting, I tell everybody, with my grandmother.
In the country we had all the courtyard animals,
goats, pigs, donkeys.
We had it all, all the garden.
But the Christmas was quite different
and organic than what is done here.
And what we did is that my grandfather would go out.
And he wouldn't take the top of the whole tree, ruin a whole tree.
That wasn't thought of.
Juniper bush or a bush that was that high,
he would chop that off, bring it in.
And we would decorate it with apples, with tangerines,
with nuts, with dried figs.
I remember as children we would make sort of wreaths of bay leaf
and dry fig, a bay leaf, a dry fig,
a bay leaf all tied not even with a string.
There is -- it was called banka [assumed spelling].
It's a very pliable strong grass.
And we would tie it.
And the whole tree was decorated
with that rather than tencel and so on.
So the story's about that.
And at the end I give recipes so the many families can do this
with the children and build this organic tree at home.
And ultimately those were our presents.
We didn't have presents.
On La Befana or the 6th of January the tree gets dismantled.
And those were our gifts, and we ate them.
Although, I mean, my brother and I, because we had put also candy,
caramelle, we would steal the candy and put a stone in there or a rock
in there so that the tree looked good, but we were munching
at it as it was going on.
The illustrations are great.
It's the illustration of all my grandkids and myself and grandma.
So it's realistic.
And, also, there will be a half hour special
on public television of the book.
So it's an exciting holiday season coming up for our family,
because we do those things at home.
Now we can share that, also, outside, maybe touch the children,
get the children involved.
Of course that's everybody's concern these days.
So I'm going to open up.
We have about ten minutes of questions.
And please.
>> It's such a pleasure to see you here.
It's great.
My mother is 89.
My family is Dutch from the Netherlands.
She survived the hungry winters in Holland during World War II.
One of the things that sustained her, she had a book.
She doesn't remember the author or the title.
It was an Italian family in New York, and they were preparing
for a wedding and the vast quantities of food.
And she would read that at that time, which may be why my family,
once we were in America, were very interested and ate Italian food.
As I said, she's 89.
I've learned all my cooking from her.
She's a wonderful cook, and she loves your show.
She loves when your mother comes on board.
She just adores that and the grandkids.
And she said to me this morning, because I said I might get a chance
to speak to Lidia, she sends you greetings.
And she said, if she still could cook -- it's beyond her now --
she would be cooking from your book.
>> Wow, that's wonderful.
>> Thanks so much.
>> Much gratitude to her.
Give her my best.
>> I will do that.
>> Tell her grandma is 90 and still kicking.
She's bossing everybody in that TV crew, telling them what to do.
So she's spiffy.
So wish her all my best and much continued Italian cooking.
>> Thank you.
And as a child, I have a very clear memory.
I can still hear my mother's rolling pin going when she was doing pastry.
Do you have a special memory?
I know you must have many, but is there something that stands
out when you were a child that really clicked you into the food
that your family was cooking?
>> If you're talking about sounds, you know, specifically now
that you're talking, I remember a lot of smells.
You know, smell, we have a large -- as primates, you know,
we sort of smell for our food.
We look for our food.
So we have a lot of space reserved for our sense of smell.
And it collects a lot of memories.
So that's why when you smell something,
it takes you right back into that moment.
But the sound, you know, what I remember, I remember sitting
with a little stool with the goat,
and I would help my grandmother hold the legs
so the goat would stay still.
And the way she was milking and the sound that the milk made
into the can and all the froth that came
out of it and ultimately drank it.
So if you're talking about sound, that's a sound that sort
of comes back to me now and then.
Thank you.
>> You obviously researched all the Italian regions.
And besides your own home region,
which region for you has your favorite food
or a special ingredient or dish that is one of your favorites?
>> Right. You know, it's like saying, what's your favorite child.
I think I love them all, but I think
that they really change within the season.
And some regions are much better than others in certain regions.
So if you're talking about now going into the Fall,
I would go up to Piemonte, the Porcini, the truffles,
even Emilia Romagna, that hearty pasta, a lot of Pachino sauce.
If you talk about summer, maybe just
like right now, Sicily, the [inaudible].
The tomatoes are just wonderful.
So I think that, you know, I travel maybe with the seasons through Italy
to find what I really appreciate and enjoy.
>> I've been to your restaurant in Pittsburgh.
It was excellent.
I remember the lamb shank fondly.
So thank you so much.
>> Thank you very much.
Yes, sir?
>> Having arrived here at age 12, I'm sure there's been a lot
of trials and tribulations and influences
that may have impacted on where you are today.
Can you speak to that?
>> Yes. You know, I think that maybe my drive -- I'm challenged.
I always loved to research, to find new things, but the challenge maybe
that got me this passion, this drive is maybe my story.
And I come from an area, now it's Istria and now it's Croatia,
but it was part of Italy.
And after World War II that part was given to then Yugoslavia,
the new country that [inaudible] became Yugoslavia.
Yugoslavia was communist.
The iron curtain went up.
The part where we were remained behind the iron curtain.
We could not speak Italian.
I mean, any boarder situation is where people are mixed ethnicity.
I mean, I speak five languages in the sense of, you know,
all the languages, but at home we speak Italian.
So we couldn't speak Italian.
I couldn't go to church.
And all of these things really weighed on my parents.
And ultimately in 1958 -- now, I was born in '47.
And this happened between '47, '48, '49,
that whole division of that area.
And in about 1955, '56 we were old enough as children,
my parents decided that they wanted to go back to Italy.
Now, there was a period that ethnic Italians, when it was divided,
could just -- it was called the exodus.
And 350,000 Italians, ethnic Italians
from that area went back to Italy.
My mother was pregnant with me.
So she stayed.
That was why.
So once in about 1955 they decided to go back.
My mother, my brother and I went as tourists.
They wouldn't allow the whole family to go back, because they knew
that they wouldn't come back.
My father literally escaped.
We went to Trieste.
In Trieste we had other family, because the proximity there is
so close that you had family all over.
We reunited with them.
It was difficult to find a job in those situations, whatever.
And we were settled ultimately in a refugee camp, political refugee camp
in Trieste called San Sabba
for two years while we awaited an opportunity to migrate.
And ultimately it was President Dwight Eisenhower,
because even immigration was stopped in the United States,
that he opened a limited immigration for political refugees.
And we were one of the first people.
We were a young family.
So I think coming here, we were brought here
by the Catholic charities.
We didn't have anybody.
The catholic charities found us a home
and ultimately fed us in the beginning.
So we are a product and, you know, we became --
at least I became resilient in a sense.
I am very blessed, because now I have two of the greatest cultures.
I came here at 12.
So I feel very American, as well, but these two great cultures.
But the challenge was, I think, to prove to my parents
that their decision -- because they were very nostalgic,
and I remember my father especially, he just couldn't, you know, get it.
Did he do the right thing, bringing here these children
when they were not having anybody?
So I think we had to prove to them that they did the right thing.
And it was my brother and I.
And my brother also really succeeded.
He's an engineer in electronics,
and he has a few hundred patents for IBM.
So I think that that drive was really on both sides.
Not so much a personal drive of gain,
but one of really showing our parents that they were right.
And my mother now enjoys and she's happy
and she's part of this success.
So I think that's a deep question.
[ Clapping ]
>> Hi, Lidia.
>> Hi.
>> I'm curious to know how does one decide
to know what to cook for the Pope?
What kind of dinner conversation do you have with the Holy Father?
>> That was really one of the highlights of my career.
And the point is not demanding at all.
He doesn't like cinnamon.
So that's it.
But it was also decided also by his confidants, if you will.
The first immediately was a Friday.
And we had 55 cardinals from all over the United States.
So Friday it was fish.
We did a whole roasted fish.
I did some soup, because I felt that if he was traveling,
he needed some soup and all that.
And he ate a big plate of soup.
But, you know, he is German.
I come from that area as I was just saying before,
you know, middle European.
I did some research.
His mother was a chef in Germany.
So he had a palate.
So I said, I wanted to come, because, you know, here's a man,
it's not about him, it's about everybody else.
And I don't think he considered --
I mean, in his position that he considers so much his feelings
and his -- so I wanted to give him pleasure,
maybe recollections again when he was a child.
So I cooked sauerkraut.
I cooked goulash.
I cooked strudel.
And he loved it all and he enjoyed it.
And I had the liberty to do that.
So at the end -- I don't know if some of you saw the picture,
but at the end it was also his birthday.
We brought him a cake.
And as I brought him the cake, I gave him a knife
to cut it and he couldn't.
So I just took his hand and we cut it together.
And I turned to him and I said, "Your Holiness, how did you enjoy?"
And he looked at me and he said, "delicious.
These flavors are my mother's flavors."
So I have gotten into him.
[ Clapping ]
>> Hi. I would just like to thank you for being on public television.
Growing up, I never had cable.
So I was always watching you on Saturday afternoon.
And my question is, I see you judging on Iron Chef America,
but would you ever compete on it and who would you challenge?
>> You know, I don't think -- I refuse actually to compete.
It's not my style.
It's not what I do.
I don't have to prove anything.
And I am a judge, yes, you know, objective judge.
I appreciate it.
I watch it, but it's not my style.
I think we are on overtime.
Maybe one more question.
>> Lidia, my wife -- hello.
Lidia, my wife and I enjoy your cookbooks and the TV show.
>> Can you come closer?
>> We enjoy your cookbooks and your TV show immensely.
I have a question for you.
>> Sure.
>> As I'm sure you know, Julia Child's kitchen is located
in a museum not too far from here.
>> Yes.
>> Many years from now would you be able to,
if asked, donate your kitchen?
>> Oh, my gosh, you're honoring me with this projection here,
but I guess whatever the future holds.
But I cooked in that kitchen.
I went to visit it.
I filmed in the kitchen that's in the Smithsonian.
And I visited with Julia.
In her last days she went to Santa Barbara,
because she was from Santa Barbara.
So I visited with her in the last days.
She was a tremendous influence in my career as far as the presence
on television and how she projected and she cared about her viewers,
not about herself, and she communicated.
And when I got up there and I said, you know a lot of chefs are,
I can do this, I can do that, and it's not about that.
It's about communicating.
And she was very instrumental.
And I looked at her and I said, that's what I want to do.
Okay. Thank you very much.
Thank you.
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