A famous chef recalls her adventures in cooking.
Restaurateur, cookbook author, and TV host Bastianich (Lidia’s Celebrate Like an Italian: 220 Foolproof Recipes that Make Every Meal a Party, 2017, etc.) offers an ebullient, nostalgic memoir of her journey to success. Her love for food began in her grandmother’s capacious garden in Busoler, a small village in northern Italy. In 1947, just months after she was born, the region became part of communist Yugoslavia; although rural Busoler saw few effects, her family’s life in the city of Pola changed dramatically. Censorship, repression, and an atmosphere of fear came to a head when her father was suddenly arrested and detained for 30 days. In 1958, her parents decided it was time for the family to escape: first her mother, the author, and her older brother obtained papers for a trip to Trieste, where her mother’s sister lived; a few weeks later, her father arrived after making the perilous border crossing on foot. For the next two years, the family lived in a refugee camp, in barely rudimentary barracks, existing on rationed food. Bastianich was allowed to enroll in a nearby Catholic school, where she helped out in the kitchen: “a culinary transition point,” she writes, because she learned to cook in volume. With astonishingly generous support from Catholic Relief Services, the Red Cross, and Catholic Charities, the family was able to fulfill their dream of settling in America. There, her mother’s home cooking was supplemented by the bounties of American cuisine: “Spam, American cheese, and Wonder Bread were our favorites,” the author gleefully admits. As a teenager, jobs in food service taught her about different recipes and cooks’ techniques. Soon after marrying, she and her husband decided to open an Italian restaurant in Queens, which proved greatly popular. In 1981, they launched a swankier restaurant in Manhattan, earning accolades from food critics and patrons such as Julia Child and James Beard.
A warm story of a life buoyed by resilience, determination, love of family, and food.