TORONTO - TV chef Lidia Bastianich says she learned an important lesson when she appeared on Julia Child's PBS series 20 years ago.
"I was looking at her and what she does and ... she was so concerned about the viewer," said Bastianich.
"She wanted them to cook and that's what it is all about. It's not about showing how much I can cook. It's about how can I transmit this and how can they do that."
Bastianich said she feels a responsibility to teach in her cookbooks and on her TV shows, currently shown on TLN in Canada, including the Emmy-nominated "Lidia's Italy."
"It's not just garlic and oil and heat it up, but how is the oil made, where's the best, how to use the best and so on," she said in a telephone interview. "All the peripheral information of the product, of the technique, that really helps them."
Now she's taking that culinary wisdom on the road with a live show. Earlier this week, Bastianich was in Toronto and Montreal for "Saputo Presents Lidia’s Italy" in which she discussed her philosophy of cooking, prepared several dishes and took questions from the audience.
Of the recent Toronto show, Bastianich said "it was so, I don't know, exciting and warm to see all these people interested in what I do. A lot of time I ask myself, 'My God, what is so interesting?'"
Bastianich has built a food empire over 40 years, with television shows and bestselling cookbooks. She has four restaurants in her home base of New York as well as locations in Pittsburgh and Kansas City. She has lines of pastas, sauces and cookware, and now wine from vineyards in Italy. She was inducted into the Culinary Hall of Fame last month.
A huge emporium called Eataly in Manhattan draws shoppers and diners for Italian food. A Chicago establishment is slated to open in the fall, and Bastianich hinted that her partners are looking at Toronto as a possible future location.
Bastianich and her then-husband opened their first restaurant, Felidia, in 1981.
"Julia Child and James Beard would come ... They enjoy their food, so we had some great times in my restaurant," she said.
Beard had his own segment on television’s first cooking show on NBC in 1946, and then on many other spots on television and radio, according to the James Beard Foundation website. He wrote more than 20 cookbooks and taught culinary skills to countless budding chefs.
Bastianich was part of a group that preserved Beard's home after his death. She has been the recipient of numerous awards from the foundation for her books, shows and restaurants.
"I won't list all the awards, but I've been blessed with quite a few," she said modestly.
Her eighth cookbook is "Lidia's Favorite Recipes: 100 Foolproof Italian Dishes, from Basic Sauces to Irresistible Entrees" (Knopf, 2012), which she co-authored with her daughter Tanya Bastianich Manuali. It's a departure from her other books, which are for the most part thematic and regional.
"(The recipes are) my favourites, the favourites of the readers through the times that I've been cooking and they're straightforward recipes that can be done by just about anybody and they're Italian and they're full of flavour," said Bastianich, a grandmother of five who turns 66 later this month.
Two loving portraits bookend the recipes. At the front is a photo of Bastianich with her mother, Erminia Matticchio, whom she refers to as Grandma and who often is sous-chef on her shows. At the end Bastianich is shown with her youngest grandchild, nine-year-old Julia, Tanya's daughter.
Bastianich's intention was to show the importance of family, passed on to her by her mother, and her hope this will be carried on in the next generation.
Her family emigrated from Bastianich's birthplace of Pula, Croatia (then Italy) to a political refugee camp in Trieste, Italy, and then in 1958 to New York. Life was tough working in the restaurant trade and she urged her children to get an education. Joseph studied business and worked on Wall Street while Tanya earned a PhD in renaissance art history.
Bastianich didn't encourage her children to seek careers in the food industry but says it's "very meaningful" for her that they have chosen to join the family business.
However, it's not always a smooth ride.
"There comes a time when we sort of rub elbows or whatever you want, but nothing we can't resolve. We sit down at the table with a glass of wine and it's always resolved."
Her next book will focus on kitchen wisdom, with information on the questions she is most often asked. She's also working on a second children's book intended to help kids appreciate the seasonality of food. It's a followup to "Nonna Tell Me A Story: Lidia's Christmas Kitchen."
Lidia's Italy, lidiasitaly.com
Bastianich Wine, bastianich.com