The lid's off with Lidia
by Ed Bark on January 5th 2012 at 5:42 am
- Comments off
PASADENA, Calif. -- Empty calories or food for thought?
Well, this is PBS. So the annual winter Television Critics Association "press tour" got off to a pretty nutritious start Wednesday morning with the network's resident super chef/restaurateur, Lidia Bastianich.
This is a woman, after all, who's cooked for the Pope. Not once, but twice. And she made him eat his soup, because she thought Pope Benedict XVI needed it during his 2008 visit to New York City.
Lidia, a 64-year-old Italian immigrant who's been a PBS foodie since 1998, will return to the network in April with four new specials. She's also found time to open four Manhattan restaurants, author eight books, sell a line of cookware via QVC, lend her name and expertise to two wineries in her native Italy and market her own brand of Nonna Foods. Son Joseph and daughter Tanya help out.
"She's somebody who resonates with our audience in a way that very few celebrity chefs ever have," public TV executive Laurie Donnelly said before the network's latter day Julia Child took the stage. "I think it's because people don't think of her as a celebrity chef, cooking up on her pedestal."
She became friends with Child before the grande dame of kitchen cookery died in 2004. And Pope Benedict got a taste of her culinary skills when she was asked to cook two dinners for him.
The first was a formal affair, she recalled, with the Pope hosting the 50 U.S. Cardinals at the Apostolate on 72nd Street and Madison Avenue. Lidia made them vegetable soup, a vegetable risotto and roasted a local striped bass. Mmm, good.
The second meal was served on Pope Benedict's birthday to a much more intimate group.
"There were about 20 of them," she recalled. "People of his stature, the spiritual people, they're all about maybe curbing themselves and just not indulging. And I wanted to reach him as a human being."
So Lidia researched Pope Benedict's background and discovered that his mother was a chef in their native Germany. So the menu this time was strudel, spaetzle, ghoulash and again, soup -- specifically Tortellini en Brodo.
"And he has a sort of a guardian, if you will. So I was pouring the soup out and he says, 'Oh, that's too much.' I said, 'No. The Pope has been traveling. He needs to eat.' And he ate the whole thing."
Dessert was a cake with a tiara in celebration of the Pope's birthday. "We all sang 'Happy Birthday,' " Lidia said. "And he couldn't cut the cake, so I literally took his hand and we cut the cake together because for me it was the natural thing to do. I think he felt relieved and good. And I said, 'Did you enjoy?' And he said, 'It was my mother's flavors.' So I had reached my goal."
Locatetv wondered if she's cooking lighter these days in recognition that America has become the land of both The Biggest Loser and an epidemic in child obesity.
"Absolutely," she said, recalling how her grandma used to use a "slab of belly fat" as one of the key ingredients of her pasta e fagioli soup. "Of course I don't do that. I've omitted all those animal fats as much as I could through the years . . . It's sort of been a slow progress. If I have a recipe that has all that fat, I will substitute. They'll still be flavorful."
Her latest cookbook, Lidia's Italy In America, isn't heart healthy through and through, though. Flip to page 152 and you'll find that her lasagna recipe still calls for a half cup of "heavy cream." No meat, though.