Sometimes I really have to pinch myself to make sure what's happening to me is real. Today was certainly one of those days, as in the late afternoon, I received a most exciting phone call. I'll set the scene for you...
4:28 p.m. - My phone rings. "Hello is this Foodista?" says an oddly familiar female voice with a distinguished Italian accent. "Yes, it is," I reply enthusiastically. "Foodista, this is Lidia Bastianich calling" says Lidia. *I pause to pinch myself* "Lidia, it's a pleasure to speak with you, thank you for calling," I reply still partly pinching my forearm.
After we got past the formalities, we got down to business, as I had the pleasure to conduct a short interview with Lidia, centered around her recent partnership with Liberty Mutual's Responsibility Project. I had a direct connection to this program through my daytime gig and thought it was a great contextual fit for Lidia. Evidently she agreed as well ;)
About Liberty Mutual's Responsibility Project - Kicking off in 2006, this campaign has proven not only relevant but influential by showcasing people and organizations who do the right thing. Whether that includes artists, small business owners or big time culinary moguls such as Lidia, the point of the program is to show how essential it is to be responsible to your community, your business, your family, etc. Lidia's contribution to this campaign includes a short film (launching this Thursday) that touches upon her passion and inspiration for Italian cooking, in turn illustrating how this passion translates into a deep responsibility she feels towards others. In my interview with Lidia, I dove deeper into this program but I also had the opportunity to ask her about food and about Astoria. Turns out this talented lady is an Astoria expat! As if I wasn't already bursting with excitement.
Conversation with Lidia Bastianich:
Foodista - In relation to this campaign, where does your sense of responsibility come from? Is it from your culture and the way you were raised? Or is it because you are a woman and a mother?
Lidia Bastianich - You know...it's a mixture of all those things. I have a tremendous responsibility through my profession to deliver high quality food to American homes. And in that way, food is a responsibility on its own - delivering just food that's maximized nutritionally and environmentally.
In terms of my family, I've always felt a deep responsibility to be the family nurturer and food has been a major part of that. Feeding and satisfying my family's needs has always been essential to me.
F - What is something that people might be surprised to learn about you as it relates to your culinary background?
LB - Food has been in my blood for generations. It's not something that has developed as an interest throughout my life, it's always been a part of me. I have a deep connection to food and to the earth, as I remember helping my grandmother cook and grow food from a very young age. From the very beginning, I learned a lot about the natural production of food and its consumption. For example, killing a pig, and not wasting any component of it - every part of the animal was used to maximum capacity.
F - Speaking of pigs, have you ever had the pig's blood delicacy, sanguinaccio?
LB - Oh yes (chuckling), my grandmother used to make that all the time with cornmeal, raisins and nuts. It's delicious!
F - Did you know that this dessert is currently served at a restaurant in Astoria called Ornella?
LB - Ornella (Lidia pronounces the name by carefully rolling her r's). Where is that? (with excitement, I tell her).
F - What's your favorite dish to cook on your day off?
LB - On my days off, I try to cook very simple foods. I of course try to stay within the season, currently cooking with cabbage, black cabbage, celery...but overall, I'd say that on my day off, I cook pasta.
F - Is there a food you don't like?
LB - Maybe it's because of a lack of experience, but I'd have to say cilantro.
F - Since this blog is about Queens, which as you know is a very diverse borough, do you have any restaurant standbys/go-tos you can share with my readers?
LB - I like the Egyptian place on Steinway, Mombar and also Piccola Venezia, they do a great job. The owners are Istrian.
F - What are your future plans for your cooking program in Eataly?
LB - That program is certainly ramping up with the chefs and wine experts involved. The great thing is that through our programs, people get immersed in all parts of an Italian meal, from the rituals of eating breakfast and lunch together to actually cooking the food. We'll also start our butchering classes soon, which is pretty exciting.
And there you have it - my interview with one of the greatest Italian food icons. I'm not only ecstatic to share it with you, but also look forward to seeing Lidia's new video this Thursday on Liberty Mutual's Responsibility Project.
As Lidia would say, "Tutti a tavola...a mangiare!" Everyone to the table and eat!