Lidia Bastianich has been described as the reigning queen of Italian cuisine in America. She is the host of cooking shows on PBS, including Lidia's Italy, a new 26-episode series which features American and Italian chefs preparing regional Italian dishes.
Bastianichs family fled Communist Istria in 1956 and became political refugees in Italy, before moving to the United States. Bastianich trained in kitchens in New York City and opened her first restaurant with her husband at the age of 24. Since then, she has opened several restaurants, including Felidia and Becco. She has also authored several cookbooks including Lidia's Family Table and Lidia's Italian-American Kitchen.
Topic: The Greatest Generation
Lidia Bastianich: I think that my origins had a tremendous shaping of my . . . who I am, my personality, my career and so on. Pola is a city in Istria. Istria is a little Peninsula that juts into Adriatic which is part of Croatia now. But World War II kind of changed the whole demographics there, or the whole . . . Pola and Istria, being Italian, were given to Yugoslavia as the spoils of World War II. And therefore being ethnic Italian, where the government that came in was Communist, was a tremendous change. And those were my formative years really, because we ultimately . . . My parents ultimately decided to escape. Because once it was a Communist state, we literally had to escape back to Italy. So that . . . Those years really did shape me and sort of created my philosophy of life. We escaped from . . . from Yugoslavia, then back into Italy. I was around 10. For two years in the aftermath of war, Italy we . . . my parents, I guess, tried to get a decent job. And so it was kind of difficult, so we entered a political refugee camp for two years. And in three years, we . . . We stayed for two years awaiting a visa to travel on. And in 1958, the United States at that time – Dwight Eisenhower – made provisions for visas for political refugees . . . people that were escaping actually Communism, which we were. And we came into the United States in 1958.
Recorded on: 10/4/07