Lidia's Italy in Austin

Lidia's Italy in Austin
Photo by Claudia Alarcon

Lidia's Italy in Austin

I have long admired Lidia Bastianich for her authenticity and her passionate quest to preserve and promote the cuisine of Italy, which set her apart from the myriad celebrity chefs of the minute who clog the airwaves. So when she came to Austin last fall to promote her new PBS show and book Lidia's Italy in America, I jumped at the opportunity to chat with her over lunch at Enoteca Vespaio.

Many years before becoming America's leading proponent of traditional, regional Italian cuisine, Bastianich cut her chops as sous chef for an Italian-American chef at her family's first restaurant. "For 10 years, I cooked Italian-American cuisine from the Northeast," she says, "but I realized it wasn't the cuisine that we ate at home. Then I began cooking risotto and polenta, and people noticed. There was an interest in wanting to know true Italian. So when I opened Felidia in 1981, I said, 'I'm going to cook regional Italian food because that's who I am, that's what I know, and that's what America needs.'" Indeed, America has embraced Bastianich as the ambassador of Italian cuisine through her restaurants, TV shows, and companion books. "But what I noticed in traveling was that the Italian-American cuisine that I had learned 30 years ago was alive and well across America, and that there was real pride in it; that Italian-Americans, now third- and fourth-generation, really appreciate being that connection to Italy, and the food that they know is the food of their ancestors that first came here and cooked Italian with the products that they found."

Lidia's Italy in America tells the compelling story of these immigrants and their adapted cuisine in regions all across the United States, from New York and the Eastern Seaboard to New Orleans; Kansas City, Mo.; Chicago; and California. "It follows the trail of the immigrants, where they landed, why they came, and what they cooked, and what did that need for their food generate in America? It generated a lot of businesses, a lot of restaurants." The series and book present recipes collected (and adapted) by Bastianich from some of the oldest Italian-American establishments in the country, piecing together the story of Italians in America through dishes like chicken cacciatore, Chicago-style pizza, and muffalettas, even including a page dedicated to Dallas' Mozzarella Company. "What was amazing was that Italian descendants, even if they were only a quarter Italian, they claimed it. And it was that dish that their great-grandmother made that slowly trickled down that they take so much pride in."

We had a wonderful time talking about tradition, recipes, and cooking. Her opinion of chef Ryan Sampson's food at Enoteca Vespaio? "It is very good and authentic. It takes knowledge to do all this."

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More Lidia Bastianich
Fun for the Whole Family
Fun for the Whole Family
Traversing the Texas Book Festival

Kimberley Jones, Nov. 6, 2009

Reading Menu
Lidia Cooks From the Heart of Italy: A Feast of 175 Regional Recipes
In her most recent, Bastianich covers regions scarcely represented in most cookbooks

Claudia Alarcón, Oct. 30, 2009

More Food Reviews
South Austin Irish Pub Features Practically Perfect Fish and Chips
South Austin Irish Pub Features Practically Perfect Fish and Chips
Darcy’s Donkey is a welcoming addition to Barton Springs Road's Restaurant Row

Melanie Haupt, April 5, 2019

Feasting on Filipino Flavors at Be More Pacific
Feasting on Filipino Flavors at Be More Pacific
Former food truck combines Southeast Asian tastes for a fun and approachable experience

Jessi Cape, March 29, 2019

More by Claudia Alarcón
Savory Characters
Savory Characters
Cooking up the next generation of cocktails

Feb. 6, 2015

Calling the Shots
Calling the Shots
The women defining Austin's cocktail culture

Jan. 23, 2015

KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Lidia Bastianich, Lidia's Italy in America, Enoteca Vespaio, Vespaio, Italian cuisine, Ryan Sampson

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Updates for SXSW 2019

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle