LIDIA BAS­TIANICH

Owner of Del Posto Restau­rant and So Much More

Upscale Living Magazine - - Pro­file - By Tracy ellen beard Pho­tos cour­tesy of Natalie Black Pho­tog­ra­phy and Del Posto

Lidia Bas­tianich is an Amer­i­can/Ital­ian celebrity chef, TV host, restau­ra­teur and part­ner in the new Ital­ian mar­ket­place Eataly. She is an icon in the food in­dus­try, a men­tor to new chefs and a tal­ented wo­man that thrives on nur­tur­ing oth­ers. Lidia and her fam­ily own and op­er­ate five restau­rants in­clud­ing Del Posto, a Miche­lin-star restau­rant with Ex­ec­u­tive Chef Melissa Ro­driguez at the helm.

THE SPARK IG­NITES

Lidia’s mem­o­ries and love for food be­gan at age four or five when she lived in Is­tria, for­merly His­tria, the largest penin­sula in the Adri­atic Sea lo­cated near Croa­tia. Her grand­mother would ask her to get a branch of rose­mary or some basil from the gar­den. Lidia says, “I was her lit­tle helper; and whether I was pick­ing toma­toes in the sum­mer or help­ing to make sausages in Novem­ber, I had fun do­ing it.”

After the com­mu­nist party took over her home­town, Lidia and her fam­ily es­caped to a refugee camp in 1956. In 1958 Lidia was 12 years old; and with the aid of Catholic Re­lief Ser­vices, she and her fam­ily im­mi­grated to As­to­ria in Queens, New York. Lidia rem­i­nisced about how her fam­ily con­tin­ued to cook the best that they could even though they could not al­ways get the in­gre­di­ents they wanted. As a young girl, she as­sisted in the kitchen when her mother got a job as a seam­stress, and even­tu­ally, Lidia landed a job in a bak­ery.

THE PAS­SION GROWS

The years went by, and Lidia con­tin­ued to pur­sue jobs in the food in­dus­try dur­ing her col­lege years. She met Felix Bas­tianich, and they mar­ried and had a son, Joe. It was Felix’s dream to own a restau­rant, and so they part­nered to­gether, opened an Ital­ian/Amer­i­can restau­rant and hired a pro­fes­sional chef. Over the next ten years, Lidia worked as the sous chef and in­creased her culi­nary knowl­edge. She and Felix had a daugh­ter, Tanya, and pur­chased a se­cond restau­rant.

The four­some vis­ited fam­ily in Italy as of­ten as pos­si­ble. Lidia would con­tact chefs she read about and ad­mired in Italy and would work sideby-side with them dur­ing her vis­its. She also at­tended culi­nary cour­ses in Amer­ica to im­prove her over­all knowl­edge about food and the hos­pi­tal­ity in­dus­try. The cou­ple sold their two restau­rants and opened Fe­lidia, their first restau­rant to show­case the re­gional food they loved and ate in Italy.

Lidia shared, “I did what I knew best, and that brought at­ten­tion from the press, Ju­lia Child and James Beard. Peo­ple be­gan to ask, ‘Who is this wo­man cook­ing all kinds of Ital­ian food like risotto, gnocchi and other dishes you only find in Italy?’” Ju­lia Child wanted to know how to make risotto, and we be­came friends. She in­vited me to her show, and I met the pro­ducer. He said, “Lidia, you are pretty good; how about a show of your own?”

THE MEN­TOR­ING CON­TIN­UES

After al­most 50 years in the in­dus­try, Lidia is an icon. Her friend­ship with Ju­lia Child lasted through­out the years, and Lidia ex­claimed,

“Ju­lia Child had the char­ac­ter and spirit to stim­u­late Amer­i­cans in the sim­plest ways. She taught them how to han­dle prod­ucts, and this is how I re­mem­ber my grand­mother and how I like to con­nect with food. Ev­ery chef should give food re­spect as it is al­ways about the prod­uct.”

Lidia has starred on Pub­lic Tele­vi­sion for more than 20 years. The first se­ries was re­leased in 1998 and was called Lidia’s Ital­ian Ta­ble. Her cur­rent se­ries, Lidia’s Kitchen, is in its 7th sea­son. She is an au­thor of 12 cook­books, in­clud­ing her new­est one, Fe­lidia: Recipes from my Flag­ship Restau­rant, which will be re­leased in Oc­to­ber, 3 chil­dren’s books and her

mem­oir. Lidia part­nered with Os­car Farinetti when they opened Eataly in New York. This in­cred­i­ble Ital­ian mar­ket­place boasts a va­ri­ety of restau­rants, re­tail shops, nu­mer­ous eater­ies and a cook­ing school. Eataly is now in Los Angeles, Las Ve­gas, Chicago, Bos­ton, and two lo­ca­tions in New York. The new­est Eataly will open soon in Toronto.

Lidia’s fam­ily owns sev­eral restau­rants, and each one ex­presses a dif­fer­ent side of Italy. In her cur­rent ca­reer, Lidia en­joys men­tor­ing, nur­tur­ing and work­ing with the chefs and staff at each of the restau­rants.

THE RESTAU­RANT FLOUR­ISHES

On my re­cent trip to New York, my friend, Gina, and I had the priv­i­lege of din­ing at Del Posto. We did not have the op­por­tu­nity to meet Ex­ec­u­tive Chef Melissa Ro­driguez as she was not on-site the night we dined. Lidia says, “Melissa is a sta­ble, dy­namic, mo­ti­vated, pas­sion­ate chef. She has the re­spect of her team and has ex­cel­lent tech­nique. She at­tended the Culi­nary In­sti­tute of Amer­ica, re­spects tra­di­tion and un­der­stands the sim­plic­ity and straight-for­ward­ness of Ital­ian food. Melissa com­bines all the above with her artis­tic tech­niques and pre­sen­ta­tion.”

Lidia shared that Melissa can cre­ate in­tense fla­vors and that her pasta dishes do not re­quire mul­ti­ple in­gre­di­ents to be ap­pre­ci­ated. She is a mas­ter. Lidia de­clared, “Del Posto is like a beau­ti­ful ho­tel or villa in Italy with amaz­ing ser­vice, lovely linens and for­mal china. The restau­rant is a rep­re­sen­ta­tion of Italy at the top of its game.”

THE FEAST BE­GINS

Din­ner at Del Posto was di­vine. The evening be­gan with a greeting from Marta at the front of the house and fin­ished with her hail­ing us a cab at the end of the evening. Ev­ery­thing from the el­e­gant dec­o­ra­tions, stun­ning table­ware and mag­nif­i­cent pi­ano added to the at­mos­phere of the ex­cep­tional din­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. Ser­vice was friendly and im­pec­ca­ble, and the food, well, we just kept or­der­ing. I have dined at sev­eral Miche­lin­starred restau­rants, but Del Posto was my first Ital­ian es­tab­lish­ment, and it was spec­tac­u­lar.

Din­ner started with a skewer of pro­sciutto, melon, basil and moz­zarella perched upon a cup of can­taloupe soup with lemon ver­bena syrup. This sim­ple yet de­li­cious first course paired with a glass of 2006 Cham­pagne Cor­bon Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru Avize Brut cre­ated an in­spi­ra­tional launch­ing pad for the evening.

The fol­low­ing dishes ranged from Carpac­cio di Gam­beri, a course that the server and I jok­ingly re­ferred to as spot prawns on steroids in the best way pos­si­ble, to Branzino con Guan­ciale and fin­ished with a va­ri­ety of tasty desserts. Spot prawns ap­peared in ev­ery part of the Carpac­cio from the zabaglione and gelee to the oil and prawns them­selves. Tar­ragon oil set off the dish, and the po­lenta chips added a crunchy tex­ture. The Branzino, or sea bass, ar­rived with cured pork jowl, chicory and Meyer lemon. The fish was ten­der and flaky, and the cured pork and lemon added salt and bright­ness. Joe, our som­me­lier for the evening, paired each dish with wines from around the world. We be­gan with Cham­pagne from France and ended with an as­sort­ment of de­li­cious Amaro di­ges­tives from Italy.

THE DISHES DE­LIGHT

We en­joyed our en­tire din­ner at Del Posto, but my fa­vorites were the pasta dishes. The first was Faz­zo­letto di Seta, a hand­ker­chief pasta with herbs, mus­sels and saf­fron. Se­cond, my ul­ti­mate love was the Corona Rip­i­ena di Toma e Tartufo Nero, a crown-shaped pasta filled with toma cheese and black truf­fle. The pasta was al dente, the cheese was creamy, and the truf­fles el­e­vated the dish to a ten on my culi­nary scoreboard. Third, came the meaty Ag­nolotti di Coniglio. These small pil­lows of pasta ar­rived filled with braised rabbit and topped with Tag­giasca olives and Parmi­giano Reg­giano. Our fi­nal pasta was the Gar­ganelli al Ragu Bolog­nese, quill-shaped pasta tossed in a pork, veal and tomato sauce.

THE LE­GACY CON­TIN­UES

Each course at Del Posto ar­rived metic­u­lously de­signed with in­tense fla­vors, mag­nif­i­cent col­ors and at­ten­tion to de­tail. These dishes trans­ported me back to days in Italy when I feasted at de­li­cious restau­rants that over­looked bustling plazas and sea­side wa­ter­fronts along the Amalfi Coast. The en­tire evening took me back to my fa­vorite re­gions in Italy. Lidia and her staff bring re­gional Italy to Amer­ica through delectable cui­sine and hos­pitable ser­vice.

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