How Lidia Bastianich Really Got Her Start

What do you know about Lidia Bastianich? This Italian-American cooking icon is the owner of several restaurants in the United States and is also a familiar presence on the TV screen, where she hosts public television cooking shows including "Lidia's Italy" and "Lidia's Kitchen" that make Italian ingredients and techniques approachable for the home cook (via PBS). Her television presence as a bubbly Italian nonna who loves whipping up rich dishes for her grandchildren belies a deep and wide-ranging knowledge of Italian cuisine, especially that of the northeastern Italian region of Istria, where Bastianich was born (via The New York Times).

Bastianich's fans might feel like she's been around forever, and in fact, she made a name for herself a long time ago: Her first restaurant opened in New York City in 1971, and her first show, "Lidia's Italian Kitchen," debuted in 1998 (via The Daily Meal). But of course, there was a time before the fame when this determined Italian immigrant was just getting her start in the food world. Read on to learn more about Bastianich's origin story.

Julia Child helped Lidia Bastianich break into TV

In an interview with Lidia Bastianich that appeared on the website of "Bizarre Foods" host, Andrew Zimmern, the chef, restaurateur, and Italian food doyenne shared how she got her start in her new home country of the United States, where she arrived from her native Italy in 1958 (via Feast).

According to The Daily Meal, Bastianich opened her first restaurant, Buonavia, in Queens, New York, in 1971. More restaurants followed, and in 1983, she opened Felidia in Manhattan. This restaurant, now closed, went on to become Bastianich's most well-known eatery. As she noted in the Andrew Zimmern interview, Bastianich's goal at the restaurant was modest: serve real Italian food, the likes of which she did not encounter in the U.S. in the early years of her career. "My goal was to cook simple, regional Italian food," she said. "I knew that the Italian American food that I found in America was delicious in its own way, but it was not what was being cooked in Italian homes in Italy."

As for her television career? As Bastianich noted in the interview, she has one food icon to thank for that: Julia Child. She recalled that the revered French-style chef and PBS cooking show host ate at Felidia one night and was so impressed by the food that she invited Bastianich to join her on two episodes of her "Master Chefs" series. "The producer liked my television presence, and with Julia's blessing, I embarked upon my television career," Bastianich said.