Chef Lidia Bastianich has been around the country during the pandemic — and without leaving her home.
The 73-year-old chef, restaurateur and Emmy award-winning public television host, like many Americans these days, has been taking a lot of Zoom calls.
“I must say, I depended a lot on my grandchildren,” Bastianich tells Fox News of getting acclimated with the new videoconferencing technology, the use of which became widespread amid the pandemic. “Thank God I did, because now I can connect.”
Lidia Bastianich is keeping busy during the pandemic. (Armando Rafael Moutela)
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The cookbook author, who actually Zoomed with Fox News from Milan, has appeared in millions of homes across America over the years, bringing along her traditional Italian-American recipes for comfort food classics like rice balls, polenta and homemade pasta, like her linguine with clam sauce and spaghetti alla carbonara.
Now, she’s virtually popping up on the frontlines of the pandemic — in a hospital, in an ambulance, and in a fire station — for her PBS special “Lidia Celebrates America: Salute to First Responders,” premiering February 12 at 10:00 p.m. ET on PBS.
“These people have such dedication and a desire to really help people,” Bastianich says of our first responders and frontline workers.
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The one-hour special sees Bastianich cooking alongside these American heroes, hopefully bringing a little comfort through food. In one segment, Bastianich and a Sonoma County firefighter who fought California’s Walbridge Fire last summer prepare Bastianich’s recipe for Chicken alla Pitocca (a chicken and rice dish). In another, a retired New York police officer who struggled with PTSD shares how cooking helps him cope as he prepares a recipe for eggplant with Bastianich. And a sister team of firefighters from the Jersey City Fire Department, one of whom became the first female fire battalion chief in the state of New Jersey, talk about building strength and shattering the glass ceiling.
Bastianich exchanged recipes with men and women working on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic for her upcoming special, “Lidia Celebrates America: Salute to First Responders.” (Armando Rafael Moutela)
Through her virtual travels, Bastianich asks what inspires each to train and serve, and how food plays a prominent role in fueling their lives.
“I would cook in my kitchen with my camera and they would follow along from theirs,” she says of exchanging stories and recipes.
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Bastianich can sympathize with their challenges and hardships. Growing up in Europe after World War II, Bastianich was born in Pola, Italy, before it was assigned to the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in 1947. She and her family lived in a camp for refugees seeking asylum from Communist Yugoslavia in Trieste, Italy. But she says nothing in her lifetime compares to the devastation she’s seen during the coronavirus pandemic.
“I was on line for food at 10 years old, waiting in camp with strangers, everybody sleeping in a room separated by drapes. Somehow because things ended well, I don’t harbor great regret. It was part of my life. I always say it made me better, it made me stronger, but you know what? This kind of pandemic, I’ve never seen anything of this magnitude that is this universal. I’ve never experienced anything like this in my life,” she says.
Still, she’s continued to do her job, filming in Italy for her food series, though she admits she was “very nervous” to travel. Back in New York, Bastianich says she plans to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
Bastianich, who owns three restaurants in Manhattan, including Becco, Del Posto, and is a partner at Italian market and restaurant chain Eataly, is eager to get her restaurant employees back to work, noting the return of indoor dining in New York City at 25% capacity on Valentine’s Day.
“Restaurants are such a big part of New York, of any city. We employ people who really need these jobs. The restaurants are a big part of the New York economy. To see these people at home, it breaks your heart – they have families, rent to pay. And there’s not much you can do. Even if we open a little bit – if it just generates enough to keep some people busy, to make some money. It’s not the question of being a big business right now, it’s just being open and keeping the people working and getting ready to grow back into a good economy,” she says.