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Lidia’s American Dream: Sharing Memories

I have three favorite personal memories of Lidia Bastianich. The first was a Sunday lunch at her home in Queens many years ago. Her son, Joe, and I had been chatting about Zinfandel wines and my desire to try more of them. So, he decided to host a lunch with Lidia with a selection of Zinfandels (a.k.a. a Zinful Sunday). It was small, and I was embarrassingly late due to Hamptons traffic. I remember an endless parade of amazing food dishes, copious amounts of wine and Felix, Lidia’s husband at the time, playing an accordion and singing. Bastianich family members were there, plus me, writer, Jerry Shriver, and one or two others.

I wondered to myself, “Is this a typical Sunday lunch at the Bastianich house?” I’d never experienced anything like at home in Chattanooga since my parents tended to hole away in the office or bedroom on Sundays, leaving me to fend for myself. Most Sundays in NYC I found myself worked extra hours or in transit from an airport or the Hamptons. But, that Sunday, I felt like a member of the Bastianich family.

I felt that same feeling of family at Joe Bastianich’s wedding at the Plaza Hotel February 19, 1995. It was a much bigger party with even more food, wine and music. I still have the commemorative bottle of wedding wine in our cellar (Joe told me it is probably great vinegar by now). I remember feeling very much like the single woman I was at the time being seated next to the wedding priest and chatting with very nice young gay man on the other side of me, while watching Lidia cut a rug on the dance floor. She was the Pride of the Party along with the Bride. What a wedding!!!

Finally, I recall running into Lidia at the Milan Airport in 2009. David and I were on a whirlwind wine trip and hauling our carry-on bags like two sherpas. Lidia glided down the stairs carrying absolutely nothing! I don’t think she even held a handbag. It was like she lived in the airport and never needed to lug her stuff around. I marveled at that free feeling. We embraced and chatted briefly before going our ways. She glided off. We trudged onward.

Lidia makes everything – from cooking to entertaining to running a restaurant or demonstrating a recipe on camera- seem effortless, and she makes everyone feel part of her family. I think that’s the secret sauce to her success.

Lidia has picked up an Emmy Award for her TV series, six James Beard Foundation Awards  (chef, books, broadcast, Who’s Who) and a Les Dames d’Escoffier International Grand Dame Award. She’s written best-selling books, produces a wildly successful specialty food line, LIDIA”s, and owns our acclaimed restaurants. She’s cooked for Pope Benedict (in 2008) and Pope Francis (in 2015) during their visits to New York City.

She’s living the American Dream! For all these reasons, it’s why her new memoir, “My American Dream: A Life of Love, Family and Food (Penguin Random House, is appropriately named. Born poor and living behind the unbearably restrictive Communist Iron Curtain in a small town on the Istrian Peninsula, Lidia’s family spent two years living in a refugee camp before escaping across the border to Trieste, Italy. In 1958, the family came to New York, thanks to the aid of Catholic Charities.

Resilience formed her backbone; cooking was her skill, family was her bond and gratitude lifted her up. She notes in her book, that complete strangers and nonprofit organizations reached out to help give her a family a home, fill their cupboards with food and help her parents find work.

There’s never enough time to spend with Lidia to hear her amazing story. We were grateful to spend a 30 minutes with recently on The Connected Table Live! You can listen here:

 

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Chronicler of Chefs – Andrew Friedman

Talk about noshing down memory lane!  You must be living under a rock if you work in the restaurant business and have not heard about Andrew Friedman’s new book, Chefs, Drugs and Rock & Roll: How Food Lovers, Free Spirits, Misfits and Wanderers Created a New American Profession.

We read it with relish because we knew just about everyone in the book! Andrew is a detailed, disciplined journalist and storyteller, and this book is an engaging documentary about America’s culinary revolutions from the 1980s through the 2000s. It ends just around when the worlds come crashing down (both the World Trade Center after September 11th and the stock market crash a few years later).

Andrew spotlights chefs on his Heritage Radio show “Andrew Talks with Chefs,” and he has written over two dozen cookbooks, with the likes of Alfred Portale, Tom Valenti, Michael Lomonaco, Michael White, Bill Telepan and Jimmy Bradley, to name a few. Of course, being tennis buffs, we were impressed by his New York Times best seller with tennis champion, James Blake, entitled “BREAKING BACK: How I Lost Everything and Won Back My Life (2007). You can see them all here on his website, appropriately named Toqueland.

Andrew Friedman is author of “Chefs, Drugs and Rock & Roll: How Food Lovers, Free Spirits, Misfits and Wanderers Created a New American Profession.” The book explores America’s restaurant evolution from the 1970s to 2000s and the people who shaped it.

This show aired broadcast live on Wednesdays May 2 at 2PM ET on W4CY Radio – (www.w4cy.com) part of Talk 4 Radio (http://www.talk4radio.com/) on the Talk 4 Media Network (http://www.talk4media.com/).

Listen to our show with Andrew Friedman and Peter Mondavi Jr (Charles Krug Winery) at this permanent iHeart link:

 

Buy this book on Amazon:

 

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Uncorking Some Napa Valley History with Peter Mondavi Jr.

Do you know what the oldest winery in Napa Valley is? It’s Charles Krug, established in 1861. Its namesake, a German immigrant, started the winery and ran it until he died in 1892. After Charles Krug’s death, the winery was acquired by the family of James Moffitt who were wealthy San Franciscans. In 1943, a former saloon worker -turned- grocer, who successfully started a fruit distribution business called Cesare Mondavi & Sons, purchased the property for $75,000. Imagine what that money represented back them (versus now!).

Charles Krug- Napa Valley’s oldest winery

Today, Charles Krug, more than 150 years later is under the stewardship of Cesare’s grandsons, Peter Mondavi Jr. and Marc Mondavi. Peter grew up on the wine estate and recently shared memories of his grandparents as well as his vision for the future of Charles Krug. #TheConnectedTableLive

Peter Mondavi Jr.

 

Peter joined us on The Connected Table Live May 2. Listen to our visit with Peter Mondavi on iHeart. On the same show, here from  author, Andrew Friedman.

 

 

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All Rise! The James Beard Foundation Media Awards


Congratulations to all the winners of The James Beard Foundation Media Awards, which comprises books, broadcasting and journalism. The Awards were presented April 27 at Pier Sixty at Chelsea Piers. I had the pleasure of attending and sitting with four nominees, Writers/Authors Kathleen Squires, Robert Simonson, Restaurateur/Chef and Author Maricel Presilla and Chef Gonzalo Gonzales Guzman, whose book, Nopalito, won in the International Category.

JBF Media Awards Host- TV Journalist Tamron Hall, who is active with the charity, Common Threads.

The Media Awards are usually overshadowed by the glitzier Restaurant and Chef Awards, which take place May 7 at Chicago’s Lyric Opera House. I feel they are as important. Writers and journalists are the chroniclers of our culture, news and history. It was evident by the nominated articles – several that addressed diversity and sexual harassment in the industry- that writers are the people who raise our consciousness through words. These words propel the rest of us to take action.

Cookbook of the Year Recipient Michael Twitty

Particularly poignant were speeches by Pati JinichMichael Twitty and Betty Fussell.  Pati, recipient of “Outstanding TV Host,” recounted her mixed emotions while shooting her show. “Pati’s Mexican Table,” at the Tijuana border. Michael, recipient of Cookbook of the Year for The Cooking Gene, talked about searching for his African roots and what it means to be a “fat, gay, black and Jewish.” Betty, resplendent at 91 and ever eloquent with her words, wowed everyone as she stepped up to the stage to receive the Cookbook Hall of Fame Award for her writings.

Pati Jinich- Best TV Host

The theme of the Awards is RISE. Participating Guest Chefs, which included dinner chefs, Michael Anthony (Gramercy Tavern, NYC), Ashley Christensen (Poole’s Diner, Raleigh, NC – who made the best tomato tart!), and Hugo Ortega (H-Town Restaurant Group, Houston), all have risen to the occasion to help support those in need. And the reception and pastry chefs, also RISE for consciousness and caring: Emma Bengtsson (Aquavit), Daniel Alvarez (Union Square Cafe, NYC), April Anderson (Good Cakes and Bakes LLC, Detroit), Claudia Fleming (North Fork Table & Inn, Southhold, NY) and Zachary Golper (Bien Cuit, NYC). As always, Pier Sixty, executed a magnificent event. A special “Thank You” to them and to Host Chef Philip DiMaiolo.

It made me proud to be part of this professional community and motivated to Rise further to make an impact.  MY

The amazing Betty Fussell, Cookbook Hall of Fame Recipient.
(I’ll have what she’s having to look this good!)

 

Here is a link to the press release announcing all Media Award recipients.

Photos by  by Kent Miller.