What was your first big break on TV? How were you discovered?
"In 1981, we opened Felidia, and the newspapers, the city papers, the big timers came, and I got invited on the Today Show and so on. A lot of food luminaries would come to Felidia—Julia Child, James Beard, they all came. What really affected me was when Julia Child asked me to do two episodes of her Lessons with Master Chefs series. So I did two episodes with her, and it was just a wonderful experience. There was a very tremendous response from the viewers. One of the shows was nominated for an Emmy, which had to do mostly with Julia, but I remember specifically that we made mushroom risotto, and the technique and everything—it just fit, I think. There was a harmony to what we were doing. Then, after a while, her producer said, ’Lidia, you’re really good. There’s a good response. How about a TV show? Have you ever thought about it?’ And I said, ’You know, I haven’t, but I love it.’"
How many shows have you done?
"We did 39 episodes of Lidia’s Italian Table, 52 episodes of Lidia’s Italian-American Kitchen, and 52 episodes of Lidia’s Family Table, and now forthcoming in April is Lidia’s Italy. I’m collaborating with my daughter, Tanya Bastianich Manuali. She is a renaissance-art historian with a Ph.D. from Oxford. I’m very proud of her. I’m going take viewers to meet my friends and family in Italy and to meet the producers in special places off the beaten path. I go to Friuli, all the way up in the Carnic Alps. And de Malgue, where it’s very pastoral and they make the most wonderful cheese. Then we go into Maremma-the other Tuscany-where we find mushrooms and chestnuts and it’s just so rugged, so wonderful. Along with this we go and see art and music, because that’s what nourishes—that’s what art does. I don’t just go to markets; I also go to visit beautiful places."
What are some of the best recipes you’ve made on-air?
"The best things—when I really feel that I’m communicating, and when I really feel that people are getting it—are simple, straightforward recipes. I think simple is the hardest to achieve, because you don’t have all those elements to hide behind. Therefore, I present simple pasta, chicken or fish dishes and demystify them. The comments that I get from people are, ’Lidia, you empower me,’ ’Lidia, you made me feel comfortable getting in the kitchen,’ ’Lidia, you gave me strength.’ And I just love that. Because that’s what it’s all about."