Lidia Bastianich sets a table for everyone in PBS special
Yet few people are less slickly Hollywood than chef Lidia Bastianich on the least Hollywood network,
"It came about because of the research for my new book, 'Lidia in America,' " Bastianich says. "All of my books have been about authentic Italian food in Italy and bringing that message about simple and authentic food. And traveling in America, there is another authentic Italian cuisine cooked by the immigrants. They knew what they wanted to cook, but they had different ingredients. So I went into the different sections, and what we really came away with is Italians are not alone. It is such a matrix that makes America what it is and that makes America great and the strong country it is.
"It became so obvious, in no other country in the world could you do that with different ethnicities blending into one fiber," she continues. "We appreciate each other and taste each other's food and it became really clear how food is the communicator of people because food is the common denominator to all of us."
As usual, Bastianich is direct and helpful in the show. In the first segment, about an Italian Christmas Eve, she shops on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx with comedian Mo Rocca.
"With all due respect to the more familiar
Bastianich invites actor
The show then takes us to San Antonio, where Bastianich sings "Feliz Navidad" with others in the pews at an old church, and visits Mi Tierra, a restaurant where four generations of the Cortez family work hard, eat well and stay close.
From San Antonio, the show heads to San Francisco, where Bastianich meets Shirley Fong-Torres, chef, food writer and promoter of Asian cuisine, who died in June. This special is dedicated to her memory.
Bastianich and Fong-Torres walk through Chinatown and eat in Fong-Torres' home to celebrate the Chinese New Year. Even Bastianich, no slouch when it comes to preparing many dishes, is happily surprised when she sees just how many platters of food Fong-Torres makes.
The special then segues into
Bastianich and her grandchildren attend the Russ family
It would have been more, well, organic to group by holiday or even season. Putting the spring and winter holidays together feels forced. Yet the unifying factor, that eating together, arguing, laughing and singing around a table are central to what it means to be a family, comes through in each segment.
This is the first in a series of prime-time specials celebrating cooking and eating together, and how different cultures ultimately share the same values. An upcoming special features Bastianich discovering the foods and cultures of different weddings.
This special's dishes, including baked brisket and baccala mantecato, an Italian delicacy of whipped cod, have a powerful connection.
"I found the food always had an element of family history, and what Grandma cooked and what Grandpa had to have," Bastianich says. "And what I sense at all of these events is this need, this specialness of the elders to impart on the generation this history, this story, because this story must live on."
As people watch, Bastianich says she hopes that they see some of themselves reflected.
"I just hope that they find themselves and their families in those specials," she says. "And if they don't find it, I hope they get inspiration to do so, because no matter what religion, who you are, you have something to celebrate. Families are the center of that. Take this moment, and it all happens at the table. The table is such a special place."