The Truth About Lidia Bastianich's First Restaurant

Culinary legend Lidia Bastianich has been a major source of inspiration in the industry for a long time. Even when she was little, the budding chef would hang around in the kitchen in her native Pola, Italy (which later became Yugoslavia). In an interview with Eataly, she reminisced that her grandmother taught her to embrace the art of cooking. Bastianich said, "I was her little helper; I went behind her, and I would cook with her." Even after her family moved to the United States, Bastianich continued cooking at home in a bid to feel closer to her grandmother.

As a school kid, she would spend her free time working at a bakery where she honed her skills further. While at Hunter College in New York, she continued to be a part of the restaurant industry by working with eateries on the side. When it was time to start something of her own a few years later, she was joined by her husband, Felice, who worked with her to open her first restaurant.

Bastianich became her restaurant's sous chef

Lidia Bastinanich was destined to be a restaurateur. According to NY Restaurant Insider, her first eatery, Buonavia, was opened in Forest Hills, New York in 1971 when she was just 24. Bastianich and her husband hit a roadblock when one of their business partners abandoned the deal unexpectedly, which meant that Bastinanich had to step up in an unexpected way. She started working in the kitchen to assist her staff members and polished her culinary skills right alongside her hired help. She got so good that she ended up becoming Buonavia's sous chef.

What was truly awe-inspiring was the fact that Lidia Bastianich was willing to leave her comfort zone behind and learned to prepare unfamiliar dishes like meatballs, lasagna, and manicotti. These were food items that she didn't prepare at home. She didn't stop there: Bastinanich went back to college and joined culinary courses to get even better. She said, "You know when something talks back to you, when it responds, when you feel that you have a connection ... and that's what happened." She wanted to keep cooking and knew that it was going to be a lifelong passion.

Buonavia's menu turned a real corner when Bastianich eventually introduced her own specialties — gnocchi and risotto — to her guests, to great acclaim. It paved the way for her to eventually open a second restaurant, Villa Secundo.