|(E) Istria in New York Times
|By Nenad N. Bach |
Culture And Arts
(E) Istria in New York Times
|Dear All, |
Regardless what Ms. Bastiancic feels, we should send a short note to New York
Times and let them know and understand that we DO understand this
misrepresentation. Even more, I do expect from our Istrians on the net to do
so. Istria is a beautiful part of this planet and within the boarders of
Croatia. Personal feelings aside. If Croatia is mentioned in New York Times,
it is better for all of us, especially on such a good note.
Write to: firstname.lastname@example.org
p.s. Ms. Bastiancic is a very talented chef and an entrepreneur. Should we
make next Croatian (New York) gathering /meeting in her restaurant?
A Recipe Kept Warm for 55 Years
ROM the commotion in the kitchen, you would have thought it was a wedding
day. Pans of eggplant rollatini baked in the oven, turnovers stuffed with
salami and mozzarella fried in the pan. Fresh clams were minced, broccoli
rape was rinsed. The pears and grapes were already roasted in moscato, and
the pignoli cookies were cooling on a sideboard. The chicken hadn't even been
started. This was no wedding. This was lunch. Lidia Matticchio Bastianich,
the celebrated chef who is a co-owner of five restaurants and the star of her
second public television series, "Lidia's Italian-American Kitchen," which
has been on the air since January, still makes lunch for her family every
Saturday and Sunday. The fact that this was Wednesday didn't stop her; the
chance to cook from her latest book, "Lidia's Italian-American Kitchen"
(Alfred A. Knopf), which includes the recipes for every dish in the new
series, was too hard to resist. Really. While other women choose yoga or
meditation to relax, Ms. Bastianich cooks. The prospect of throwing up her
hands and ordering in is foreign to her.
"Maybe I felt that way once or twice," she said. Once or twice what? A month?
"No, once or twice that I can remember," she answered, smiling. "Cooking is
good therapy for me."
It is also central to her sense of home — the childhood home she lost in
Istria, a region in northeastern Italy that was taken over by Yugoslavia
after World War II and became Communist. In 1956 her family left for Trieste,
where for two years they lived in a refugee camp awaiting visas to America.
Ms. Bastianich was 10 at the time and had to leave without saying goodbye to
the beloved grandparents who helped raise her. They ran a trattoria and grew
most of the food they sold and ate, producing their own olive oil and wine,
distilling their own grappa and curing their own meats. That world, no longer
home, no longer even Italy, was lost to her forever.
Or so she thought. The family moved to Astoria, Queens, to be near a distant
relative, and Ms. Bastianich's father found work as a mechanic for Chevrolet;
her mother, who had been an elementary school teacher, did piece work for the
Evan Picone clothing company. Her daughter cooked the family's dinner each
night, a task that kept the memory of her grandmother close.
"I picked up the newness in America, and it was wonderful," Ms. Bastianich
said, escaping the kitchen to sit in her sunroom. "But I needed to go back so
much. This nostalgia I had at 12 years old! I had unfinished business there.
My grandmother was the epicenter for me."
She entered Hunter College on a scholarship but left after two years to marry
Felice Bastianich, a fellow Istrian. At 19, on her honeymoon, she returned to
Istria for the long-awaited reunion with her grandmother. "I had eight visits
after that," Ms. Bastianich said happily. "She was able to see my two
The echoes of her truncated childhood still sound through this house. A Tudor
built in 1902, it is located in the Douglaston Manor section of Queens and
sits right on the bay, a vegetable and herb garden in the yard, a wood-
burning bread and pizza oven and rotisserie in the back. The terrace was bare
in the November sunlight; Ms. Bastianich had brought her lemon, bay leaf and
rosemary trees indoors for the winter, along with huge pots of geraniums. The
last of the summer's tomatoes were ripening on a sheet of newspaper on the
terra- cotta-tiled dining room floor.
"The food of a country is my story," she said. "It is a small story, but
people relate so much to it. I want to share that, but also the idea of
bringing people and family together. There is a softness to it, I think.
People say to me: `You remind me of my mother. You bring back memories.' "
The sound of pots banging in the kitchen seemed to distract her momentarily;
this idea of family, which for her encompasses the people she works with, is
a noisy proposition. Ms. Bastianich's recipe tester, Chris Styler, had taken
over preparation of the chicken cacciatore while her assistant, Shelly
Burgess, answered the phone and tended to her 4- month- old son. Ms. Burgess
is married to Fortunato Nicotra, the chef at Felidia, Ms. Bastianich's first
Manhattan restaurant, which celebrated its 20th anniversary in October.
Ms. Bastianich's mother, Erminia, who is 80, played with the baby while her
companion, Giovanni Bencina, read the paper; they live in the house in a
separate apartment. Ms. Bastianich's son-in-law, Corrado Manuali, a lawyer,
ran after his 2-year- old son, Lorenzo. His wife, Tanya, Ms. Bastianich's
daughter, was in Italy, where she often leads tour groups for a company she
owns with her mother. Joseph Bastianich, his mother's partner in Felidia,
Becco and Esca in New York, Lidia's Kansas City and Lidia's Pittsburgh, was
in Connecticut poised for his wife's delivery of their third child, who
arrived later that night.
Mixing work and family is second nature by now; Ms. Bastianich's mother
always lived with her and watched the children so that she and her husband
could work in their restaurants at night. And Ms. Bastianich tapes her
television series in her spacious kitchen.
It is a house that is lived in," she said. "There's people, food, kids
playing. The house is me." Lorenzo barreled through the door. "Nonna Lidia,"
he called, using the Italian word for grandma, "House!"
"Yes, Lorenzo, make a house, go ahead," she answered, as he pulled the
cushions from the sofas and propped them up on the floor. "This need of
having family all around is very Italian, anyway," she said. "My quest is
where can my family and friends fit, what would they enjoy? I want to share
with the house."
For all the frenzy that surrounds her, Ms. Bastianich, 55, seems to have an
inner peace. After 31 years of marriage, she and her husband divorced; the
business expansion interested him less than it did his wife. They remain good
friends, she says, and she seems no worse for wear. Her skin is baby smooth,
her smile is radiant, the flour that marks her pants — she never wore an
apron — bothers her not at all.
"Nature recharges me," she said, gazing out onto the bay. "I need the water.
I'm with people 12 hours a day. Hearing the water rustle against the rocks is
just like music."
And having had her mother live with her all these years comforts her as well.
"That gives me a tremendous amount of security," she said. "I had my first
child at 21, my first restaurant at 24."
Despite her mother's help, Ms. Bastianich said, she was still conflicted
about mixing career with children. She and her husband ran two restaurants in
Queens for a decade before opening Felidia. "I was lucky enough to have a
young pediatrician," she said, "because the guilt came to me. I told him, `I
love what I do, but I have this weight about it.' And he said: `Children
basically want their parents to be happy. If you stay home and are grouchy
you'll regret it. If you go out and do and be happy, you can bring them
along.' So I brought them. But I told my kids, you've got to get an
education, you don't want this. We had to have our Mother's Day or Easter at
the restaurant before we opened, then they would go home with Grandma, and I
would stay and work."
Though they obeyed her — Joe received his B.A. from Boston College, Tanya a
Ph.D. in art history from Oxford — they came right back. In 1999, when Ms.
Bastianich was given the James Beard Award for best chef in New York and
Joseph Bastianich with his partner in Babbo, Mario Batali, won the award for
best new restaurant in the United States, it was a thrilling moment. "It was
a culmination," she said proudly. "A legacy going forward."
Mr. Bastianich, who opened Becco, his first restaurant, when he was 25, says
that his mother makes a good partner. "When I needed her she was there, and
when I didn't she was nowhere to be found," he said. "Her greatest strength
is her sensibility in dealing with people." So, there are no big blowouts
with the chef? "She's not a chef," he said. "She's a real cook, not a
screamer or a control freak. Cooking is who she is, a part of her culture,
and how she exhibits emotion and love. It's her language."
Preserving that culture, Ms. Bastianich said, was one of the reasons she
wrote her new book. "I wanted to capture my grandmother and those memories,"
she said. " I don't want the children to forget who they are. The
Italian-American cuisine has been shunned in recent years as an imposter
cuisine. But I think it is venerable. These are people who came to a new
country and did their best with what they found."
"Still," she went on, "I feel like an octopus; I'm touching different things.
I'm that sort of link caught in between here and there."
The noise in the kitchen was escalating. Clearly it was time for lunch. "Call
Grandma," Ms. Bastianich told Mr. Styler, spotting her outside the kitchen
window as she headed back to the stove. He returned promptly. "She wants to
know what's the holdup," he said, and Ms. Bastianich smiled, shaking her head.
"On the show, we call her the executive executive producer," Mr. Styler said.
"She sits in control room and says, `Smile a little more.' "
"As the family gathered, Ms. Bastianich boiled the pasta, sautéed garlic and
olive oil, even tossed some spaghetti in a pan with butter for Lorenzo, while
he sat on the marble counter banging on pots with a spoon, his
great-grandmother by his side. She sang, `Bravo, mi amore" in time with the
beat. Ms. Bastianich's calm was practically Zenlike; she seemed to hear
Until Ms. Burgess's baby, who had been peaceful all morning, suddenly began
to wail. Finally, Ms. Bastianich looked up. "Feed him, that's all," she said.
"He wants to eat."
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