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 »  Home  »  Culture And Arts  »  (E) Istria in New York Times
(E) Istria in New York Times
By Nenad N. Bach | Published  11/18/2001 | Culture And Arts | Unrated
(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: letters@nytimes.com 
 
Nenad Bach 
 
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? 
A year? 
"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 
children." 
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 
nothing. 
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." 
 
distributed by CROWN (Croatian World Net) - CroworldNet@aol.com 
 
  
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