Celebrating 25 years on Public TV: A Q&A with Lidia Bastianich
December 13, 2023
It has been 25 years since “Lidia’s Italian Table” premiered on public television. Six public TV series, two Emmys and four James Beard Awards later, the famed Italian chef Lidia Bastianich chronicles her journey on “25 Years With Lidia: A Culinary Jubilee,” coming to PBS and its digital channels on December 18.
The CPB-supported special, produced by GBH in Boston, features highlights from Bastianich’s remarkable life, along with rare and never-before-seen video and photographs of her life, both on and off the screen. As always, it ends with a celebratory meal, this time with longtime friends including French chef Jacques Pépin and actor Christopher Walken, whose parents owned a bakery in Queens, New York, where a teen Bastianich got her first job.
CPB caught up with Bastianich to talk about her extraordinary life and career:
Q: Congratulations on 25 years in public television. While you have appeared on many commercial TV cooking shows, you’ve remained rooted in public television. What is the enduring appeal of public television to you?
A: PBS is a venue that respects the viewer and brings information and entertainment that enriches the life of the viewer. I am proud to be part of sharing information and teachings about my passion and profession, Italian cooking.
Q: In your “Lidia Celebrates America” specials, you have visited and cooked with many different people -- veterans, farmers, immigrants, first responders, immigrants -- drawing out human connections and understanding. How do food and culture help strengthen our civil society?
A: Food is the basic and strongest connector between human beings. It certainly nourishes us, gives us pleasure, and gives us opportunities to be social and interact with each other. But food is also love; with it we communicate, we care, we nurture, we express love and care and empathy. I think that in today’s troublesome world we could use more “Food Diplomacy,” eating together and understanding each other’s food and culture.
Q: This special, like all your other “Lidia Celebrates America” specials, ends with a celebratory meal, where you say: “Tutti a tavola a mangiare,” which means, “Everyone to the table to eat!” Why is sharing a meal with others so important to you?
A: At the kitchen table is the most important place to be in a home. There we feed ourselves to live, but it is also then that our human defense systems are off and we are receptive not only to the food, but most important to the messages at that table. The sentiment, the love, the wisdom, the sharing, the information…everything that is discussed at that table we absorb.
Q. With so much that divides us in America today, how does cooking great food bring us together?
I think that cooking and eating together is a potent antidote to today’s cultural ailments. Food is a positive message, the preparation of it brings us together in an act of caring and sharing for each other be it family or friends. Even foes could be conquered by cooking and eating together. It is understanding each other, understanding and accepting each other’s cultures and wishing each other’s well-being.
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