On Assignment with the Mothership of Italian Cooking Lidia Bastianich

Lidia with her two children and family

fresh mozzarella braid

Croatian-born Lidia Bastianich fled to Italy at the age of 11 with her family, as a refugee.  Two years later in 1958, the family would immigrate to the US. The self-taught cook has built an empire of Italian cooking in America, starting with a family-owned restaurant in Queens, in 1971. In 1981, Lidia would create her flagship restaurant, Felidia, in New York City. She has had a regular series on PBS since 1998, and – to date – has six celebrated restaurants nationwide and several cookbooks. I have been a fan of hers since I discovered her cooking. Watching her cook was so comforting and warm; she made the food seem unpretentious and totally approachable. At the end of most episodes, I found myself inspired to spend the rest of the afternoon shopping for ingredients and cooking. And, as we all know, imitation is the highest form of flattery.

When my editor at Saveur Magazine contacted me about an assignment with Lidia in Italy, I felt like I had won the lottery. Spend a week with Lidia and her family on their vacation in Umbria? Ummmm, twist my arm…let me think about it…OKAY!!! A few weeks later, I was there with the entire Bastianich family in Umbria, making photographs and quietly observing. I don’t have to tell you that we ate very well – and meeting Lidia and her family was one of my all-time favorite assignments. Talking to Lidia about her life and her success was personally very inspiring.

In spite of a busy life and much success, at the center of Lidia’s world is her family. I’m always so moved by people who make their way in the world starting from very little: just a dream, a good work ethic, and hope. That’s Lidia!

Gubbio, Italy

Umbrian lentil soup with extra virgin olive 

Lidia with her grandchildren teaching them to roll dough for tortas

torta al testo


Filed under Chefs, Encouragement, International Assignments, Italy, Lidia Bastianich, markets, travel

58 Responses to On Assignment with the Mothership of Italian Cooking Lidia Bastianich

  1. Ho do I get this job??? Lovely…

  2. I’ve been a big fan of Lidia for years…she is such a joy to watch!

  3. What an amazing assignment. I love Lidia and agree that everything she does is so approachable and you can tell how much she loves her family in every episode. Beautiful photos!

  4. Seriously? SERIOUSLY? Dream assignment, yo. DREAM. Love the photos, love the story, and am so glad you posted this. Thanks for sharing it with us!

  5. What gorgeous, gorgeous photos. That mozzarella braid (and just about every other food item in this post) made my mouth start watering uncontrollably. Must’ve been the assignment of a lifetime!

  6. OMG! Can I be your camera gopher next time? heehee
    What an amazing trip. So envious. That mozzarella alone has me drooling.

  7. She seems as warm and giving in person as she does on her show…. how lucky you are to share with such a family… great photos!

  8. I love the shots! The food photos are delicious..really nice shots of the family. Just like I was there.

    Cool. Very cool.

  9. Did you hear how everyone in her family has lost weight? I’d sure like to know how they did it. Even her daughter is skinny now!

  10. I watch her show all the time and those grandkids are so dang cute! What a great assignment, Penny!

  11. I love reading your posts and this one is no exception. You have such a subtle way of making me feel like I am looking over your shoulder and taking a peak into such a wonderful and magical life ..thank you

  12. Great post, LOVED the photos.

  13. I’m soooo jealous! Thanks for the beautiful photos.

  14. Is she preparing food outside? She’s just crazy! Thanks for sharing:)

  15. Beautiful photographs! Made me hungry! As a grandchild of Italians right out of Italy I can say this brought back some memories…

  16. The photos are fantastic, mouth watering Penny. Just curious did you shoot with the breads with a fast wide angle lens? i love the effect. great work.

  17. OMG-oodness! I could just pass out from wanting this food!!! Looks wonderful, great article!

  18. AMAZING! And now, of course, I’m hungry. I want that mozzarella braid! I need to try to make that stuff at home.


  19. Wonderful photos of the food (and everything else, too, of course). But now I’m hungry.

  20. This is great! I’m in love with the mozzarella braid!

  21. Wow I love Lidia! I used to watch her every afternoon with a cup of tea :) You’re really lucky!

  22. Hello,

    I just run into this blog and had to comment. Love this place and the food is amazing!

    ~ Gabriela ~

  23. Penny – It was a pleasure having you with us. You became part of the family. Thanks for the gorgeous pictures!

  24. Pingback: They Laughted When I Said “i’ll Cook Tonight” But They Were Amazed When They Tried it « shiyan

  25. Colleen McGuire

    I didn’t realize Lidia wasn’t Italian, so it’s really striking to me how two years in the country could change her life so much. I’m sure Italy was paradise for a child fleeing her torn homeland. A remarkable story. Thank you for sharing and safe travels!

  26. Geo

    I recently returned from my first visit to Italy…a place I’ve always wanted to visit since my first introduction to Italian cuisine when a girl who entered grade nine midway term brought me to her house. Wow, the food she showed me was so lovely looking and it tasted even better. This girl’s mother was so nice. By the way the mother spoke to me I could tell she thought I was sick or didn’t like food because I was all of 98 pounds at 16 years of age and was until I was about 33 and after two kids. The mother kept bringing out food and more food and cheeses and kept asking me if I wanted to eat anything more. I love the food but couldn’t eat too much. But when I recently visited Italy during the Iceland volcano erruption and it rained for several days in Tuscany I really didn’t care because the food tasted so good I was in my glory after almost 50 years I got to Italy!

  27. Geo

    The pictures in your blog are fabulous and are what food blogs should be: beautiful. Thanks for this.

  28. I want your job! Wow! Amazing photos! Congrats on being Freshly Pressed!

  29. I just found your blog, and your photos are absolutely gorgeous!

  30. The food and pictures look wonderful

  31. I love this!! I’m so glad you were able to do this assignment so you can share this experience with us – I love Italy and Italian food. This blog just made my heart do a little happy dance. Thank you!

  32. Absolutely brilliant! Made me hungry though. LOL

  33. MAHI

    Great article, great pictures. Loved it.

  34. “Tutti a tavola a mangiare!” Love Lidia, just love her. What an experience – beautiful country, beautiful food, beautiful family.

  35. Absolutely love Lidia! Whenever I sit and watch her show on PBS I feel like I’m at home with family. Crazy huh?

    What an amazing opportunity!

  36. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful pics!

  37. Pingback: On Assignment with the Mothership of Italian Cooking Lidia Bastianich (via Appetite) | Most Viewed music Blog

  38. Wow, I love the photos! The braided mozzarella looks delicious!

  39. I thoroughly enjoyed your post this morning with my fresh peach ginger smoothy
    (peaches from my tree here in mid coast Maine)I have been a subscriber of Saveur for a few years and I have always been impressed with your work. I too am a Lidia fan…she alway seems to capture the tru essence of the region she happens to be featuring (in her PBS shows and her books)Your images are stunning and reflect the mood of Umbria. I spent a day and 1/2 in Gubbio
    and still remember the wild boar dried salami links studded with black truffles
    and fennel seed that I bought from a vender in the rain…

  40. Great Pics! Well Italian cuisine never fails me, every time I see examples of their cuisine, it never fails to make my mouth water.

  41. What an amazing experience you’ve had. And the photos are like stright out of some foodie magazine. Beautiful!! Italians really do have the BEST food…

  42. What an amazing, amazing experience for you – and you call that work!!! Your photos are superb. Well done…

  43. You did hit the lottery. What a fantastic trip! My mouth is watering. I have always loved Lidia too…she is so real I just want to hug her. I was checking out all the speakers for Blogher and came to ck your blog out. Looking forward to possibly hearing you speak in Oct.

  44. Penny, thanks so much for taking us on this mouth watering journey with you. Lidia and her family look like fantastic people. You are one lucky gal to be able to join them in Umbria for their summer vacation.
    I am looking forward to meeting you at BlogHer Food.

  45. Penny, you made lentil soup look so sexy! Great seeing you in Seattle – you took away the show just as I thought you would! :)

  46. i heard from some blog that you had a food photography workshop in Seattle, for the second time as far as i know. when are you coming to NY? make sure you announce it in your blog ahead of time. I would love to go!!

  47. I’m hungry now!!!! Amazing photographs!!!

  48. Beautiful photos! Already it wanted to me to eat =)

  49. Hi Penny, lovely images, so heart warming. Family, friends and food – best things in life! If you get a chance, come visit a bit of rural England at http://extra-relish.com/
    Thanks for all your inspirational photography.

  50. Fantastic photos-thank you!!

  51. I thought she was of Croatian descent from her last name.
    I wonder since she was only a kid when she left croatia if there is any influence on her recipes. I know she cooks italian but I do wonder if she would ever consider returning to Croatia and doing a special documentary. and why she choose to cook Italian when she only lived in Italy for two years. I guess I’m just a curious girl. LOL

  52. i am so glad i found your site. how lucky for you to have such exciting assignments – and lucky for your readers that you share with such insightful photos.
    what a treat to hang with lydia. i also loved your greece post l. a perfect glimpse of a magical place. cheers.

  53. italian foods are very tasty and most of their recipes are heart friendly too “”"

  54. Celeste Burgess

    Why does my mouth water when Lidia is cooking? Please come to Australia soon Lidia. You will love our fresh produce and our International residents. In Victoria we have a suburb named Carlton but is better known as “Little Italy”. Thank you Lidia.