Lidia Bastianich was born Lidia Giuliana Matticchio on February 21, 1947, in Pola, formerly Italian (now a city in Croatia), but made a part of Yugoslavia according to the February 10, 1947 Paris Peace Treaty with Italy. She is the daughter of Erminia (née Pavichievaz), (the daughter of Rosaria Smilovich) and Vittorio Matticchio (the son of Antonio Motika and Francesca Lovrecich). Living nine years under Marshal Tito's Communist regime in Yugoslavia, during which time her family changed the name Matticchio back to Motika, her father, Vittorio, in 1956 sent his wife and their two children to visit relatives in Trieste, Italy, while he remained in Istria to comply with the government's mandate that one member of a family remain in Yugoslavia to ensure that the rest would return. Hours later, Vittorio himself left Yugoslavia under cover of darkness and crossed the border into Italy. Their departure was part of the larger Istrian exodus.
The Matticchio family reunited in Trieste, Italy, joining other families who had claimed political asylum from Communist Yugoslavia starting in 1947, many of whom remained in refugee camps throughout Italy for years. For the Matticchio family, the Risiera di San Sabba camp was one that had been an abandoned rice factory in Trieste that had been converted to a Nazi concentration camp during World War II and partially destroyed towards the end of the war, the Risiera di San Sabba. According to Bastianich in a Public Television documentary, although a wealthy Triestine family hired her mother as a cook–housekeeper and her father as a limousine driver, they remained residents of the refugee camp. Two years later, their displaced persons application was granted to emigrate to the U.S. In 1958, the Matticchio family reached New York City. The 12-year-old Lidia and her family moved to North Bergen, New Jersey, and later Queens, New York.
Bastianich gives credit for the family's new roots in America to their sponsor, Catholic Relief Services:
Bastianich started working part-time when she was 14 (the legal age for a work permit), during which time she briefly worked at the Astoria bakery owned by Christopher Walken's father. After graduating from high school, she began to work full-time at a pizzeria on the upper west side of Manhattan.
At her sweet sixteen birthday party, she was introduced to her future husband, Felice "Felix" Bastianich, a fellow Istrian immigrant and restaurant worker from Labin (Albona), on the eastern coast of Istria, Croatia. The couple married in 1966 and Lidia gave birth to their son, Joseph, in 1968. Their second child, Tanya, was born in 1972.
In 1971, the Bastianich couple opened their first restaurant, the tiny Buonavia, meaning "good road", in the Forest Hills section of Queens, with Bastianich as its hostess. They created their restaurant's menu by copying recipes from the most popular and successful Italian restaurants of the day, and they hired the best Italian-American chef that they could find.
After a brief break to deliver her second child Tanya, in 1972 Bastianich began training as the assistant chef at Buonavia, gradually learning enough to cook popular Italian dishes on her own, after which the couple began adding traditional Istrian dishes to their menu.
The success of Buonavia led to the opening of a second restaurant in Queens, Villa Secondo. It was here that Bastianich gained the attention of local food critics and started to give live cooking demonstrations, a prelude to her future career as a television cooking show hostess.
In 1981, Bastianich's father died, and the family sold their two Queens restaurants and purchased a small Manhattan brownstone containing a pre-existing restaurant on the East Side of Manhattan near the 59th Street Bridge to Queens. They converted it into what would eventually become their flagship restaurant, Felidia (a contraction of "Felice" and "Lidia"). After liquidating nearly every asset they had to cover $750,000 worth of renovations, Felidia finally opened to near-universal acclaim from their loyal following of food critics, including The New York Times, which gave Felidia three stars.
Although Lidia and Felice sent their two children to college without expectations that either would go into the restaurant business, Joseph, who had frequently done odd jobs for his parents at Felidia, gave up his newly launched career as a Wall Street bond trader and in 1993 convinced his parents to partner with him to open Becco (Italian for "peck, nibble, savor") in the Theater District in Manhattan. Like Felidia, Becco was an immediate success and led to the opening of additional restaurants outside New York City, including Lidia's Kansas City in 1998, and Lidia's Pittsburgh in 2001.
In 1993, Julia Child invited Bastianich to tape an episode of her Public Television series Julia Child: Cooking With Master Chefs, which featured acclaimed chefs from around the U.S., preparing dishes in their own home kitchens. The guest appearance gave Bastianich confidence and determination to expand the Bastianich family's own commercial interests. After many disagreements about the direction their entrepreneurial and personal lives had taken — most notably the pace of the expansion and character of their business — Lidia and Felice divorced in 1998. Bastianich continued expanding her business while Felice transferred his shares in the business to their two children. He died on December 12, 2010.
By the late 1990s, Bastianich's restaurants had evolved into a truly family-owned and operated enterprise. Bastianich's mother, Erminia Motika, maintained the large garden behind the family home, from which Bastianich chose ingredients to use in recipe development. Joe was the chief sommelier of the restaurant group, in addition to branching out into his own restaurant line with friend and famed Italian chef Mario Batali. Bastianich's daughter Tanya Bastianich Manuali used her Ph.D in Italian art history as the foundation for a travel agency partnership with her mother called Esperienze Italiane, through which Tanya and friend Shelly Burgess Nicotra (Executive Producer of Bastianich's television series and head of PR at Lidia's Italy) offered tours throughout Italy. Tanya's husband, attorney Corrado Manuali, became the restaurant group's chief legal counsel.
In 2010, Bastianich and her son partnered with Oscar Farinetti and Mario Batali to open Eataly, a 50,000-square-foot (4,600 m2) food emporium in Manhattan that is devoted to the food and culinary traditions of Italy. Bastianich offers culinary and gastronomy classes to the public at Eataly's school, La Scuola. Eataly's motto is "We sell what we cook, and we cook what we sell". Eataly is now opened in Chicago and São Paulo, Brazil. They opened a second store in New York at the World Trade Center in Manhattan in 2016, and another one in Boston the same year.
The fall of 2010 also marked the debut of Lidia's Kitchen, an exclusive line of commercial cookware, and serving ware for QVC. Along with her daughter Tanya, and son-in-law Corrado Manuali, Bastianich launched Nonna Foods as a platform to distribute an array of both existing and new LIDIA'S food products. Nonna Foods has 9 cuts of pasta and 7 varieties of sauces available nationwide. Together with her son Joseph, Bastianich produces award-winning wines at Bastianich Vineyard in Friuli and La Mozza Vineyard in Maremma, Italy.
In 1998, Public Television offered Bastianich her own television series which became Lidia's Italian Table. It established her as a fixture in the network's line-up of cooking-shows. Since then she has hosted additional public television series, including Lidia's Family Table, Lidia's Italy, Lidia's Italy in America, and Lidia's Kitchen.
She also hosted a series of hour-long Public Television specials called Lidia Celebrates America, which premiered in 2011 with Lidia Celebrates America: Holiday Tables & Traditions. In the series, Bastianich celebrates the diversity of cultures across the United States and explores the American immigrant experience. The following special, Lidia Celebrates America: Weddings – Something Borrowed, Something New, aired in 2012; Lidia Celebrates America: Freedom & Independence in 2013; Lidia Celebrates America: Life’s Milestones in 2013; Lidia Celebrates America: Holiday Tables and Traditions in 2015; and Lidia Celebrates America: Holiday for Heroes in 2016. Bastianich ends each episode of her show with an invitation to join her and her family for a meal, Tutti a tavola a mangiare! (Italian for "Everyone to the table to eat").
For the 2010 holiday season, her new television production company, Tavola Productions, created an animated holiday children's special for Public Television "Lidia's Christmas Kitchen: Nonna Tell Me a Story" to go along with the book by the same title that was written by Bastianich.
In 2013, Bastianich returned to Public Television with Lidia’s Kitchen, a 26-part series produced by Tavola Productions. The series is in its fourth season, which premiered in 2016.
Among Bastianich's television show appearances, she participated as a celebrity judge on MasterChef USA, an adaptation of the BBC MasterChef (UK TV series) in 2000. Her son, Joseph Bastianich, would later go on to star as a celebrity judge on the Gordon Ramsay version of MasterChef. Bastianich has also appeared on the Italian television show Junior MasterChef Italia in 2014 and 2015 for Season 1 and Season 2. In 2016, she was a judge for the Italian television show, La Prova del Cuoco.
Bastianich has authored several cookbooks to accompany her television series:La Cucina di LidiaLidia's Family TableLidia's Italian-American KitchenLidia's Italian TableLidia's ItalyLidia's Italy in AmericaLidia Cooks from the Heart of ItalyLidia's Italy in AmericaLidia's FavoritesLidia's Commonsense Italian CookingNonna Tell Me A StoryNonna's Birthday SurpriseLidia's Egg-Citing Farm AdventureLidia's Mastering the Art of Italian Cuisine(1987) Recipient of Woman of the Year/Innovation Award, Restaurant Category, Women’s Institute of the Center for Food and Hotel Management(1993) Nominated for “Best Chef in New York” by the James Beard Foundation; Felidia(1994) Nominated for “Best Chef in New York” by the James Beard Foundation; Felidia(1996) Nominated for “Best Chef in New York” by the James Beard Foundation; Felidia(1996) Recipient of "Who's Who of Food & Beverage in America" James Beard Award (1997) Nominated for “Best Chef in New York” by the James Beard Foundation; Felidia(1998) Nominated for “Best Chef in New York” by the James Beard Foundation; Felidia(1999) Named “Best Chef in New York” by the James Beard Foundation (2001) Lidia's Italian-American Kitchen wins International Association Culinary Professionals (IACP) cookbook Award in “Chefs and restaurants“ category (2002) Lidia’s Italian-American Kitchen nominated for James Beard Award in “Best National Television Cooking Show or Special“ category(2002) Named “Best Outstanding Chef” by the James Beard Foundation (2002) Named “The First Lady of Italian Cuisine and Restaurants in the United States” by Senator George Onorato(2007) Lidia’s Family Table nominated for James Beard Award in “National Television Food Show” category(2008) Lidia’s Italy: 140 Simple and Delicious Recipes from the Ten Places in Italy Lidia Loves Most nominated for James Beard Award in “International Book” category(2008) Lidia’s Italy nominated for Emmy Award (2009) Lidia's Italy named “Best Cooking Show” by the James Beard Foundation (2010) Lidia Cooks From the Heart of Italy nominated for James Beard Award in “International Book” category(2011) Lidia Celebrates America receives highest honor of Silver Award for in Film/Video Silver Winners category for the 32nd Annual Telly Awards(2012) Lidia Celebrates America: Holiday Tables & Traditions nominated for “Outstanding Documentary” by the James Beard Foundation (2013) Wins Emmy for "Outstanding Culinary Host" (2013) Lidia Celebrates America: Something Borrowed Something New receives New York Festivals Award (2014) Three Tavola productions- Lidia's Kitchen, Lidia Celebrates America, and Amy Thielen's Heartland Table on the Food Network nominated for a James Beard Award(2014) Lidia Celebrates America: Freedom and Independence receives Telly Award(2014) Lidia Celebrates America nominated for a Rockie Award at Banff World Media Festival in “Lifestyle” category (2016) Lidia Celebrates America: Home for the Holidays wins "Best Special" by the James Beard Foundation (2016) Lidia Celebrates America: Home for the Holidays named “Best Food Program” at Taste Awards(2017) Nominated for a Daytime Emmy Award in “Outstanding Culinary Host” category (2017) Lidia Celebrates America: Holiday for Heroes named “Best Special" by the James Beard Foundation (1996) Recipient of Distinguished Service Award and recognized for “Outstanding contribution and dedicated service to the Italian-American Community” by the Italian Government(1999) Honored as "Commendatore" of the Republic of Italy(2000) Golden Whisk Award by Women Chefs and Restaurateurs (2002) “La Bellisima America” Award from Italian American Museum (2007) Honors Award from Careers through Culinary Arts Program (C-CAP)(2007) Grand Marshal of the Columbus Day Parade in New York City(2008) Chef for Papal Celebration; Pope Benedict XVI during visit to New York City (2008) Recipient of Bpeace’s first-ever Economic Impact Award (2008) Honored as Commandor (“Commendatore”) by the Italian President, Napolitano(2008) Guest at Dinner honoring Italian Prime Minister at the White House; Washington(2009) Honoree at Great Chefs event to benefit Greenwich Health at Greenwich Hospital(2009) National Italian American Foundation (NIAF) Special Achievement Award for humanitarian service (2010) Bastianich family honored by the National Organization of Italian American Women (NOIAW) for their outstanding contributions to Italian culture in America. (2012) Recipient of Lifetime Achievement Award at Healthcare Chaplaincy Wholeness of Life Awards Dinner (2013) Honored at The Philips Collection Annual Gala (2015) Chef for Papal Celebration; Pope Francis during visit to New York City (2015) Italian Talent Award by The Italian Talent Association (2015) Augie Award at the Annual Culinary Institute of America Leadership Awards (2016) Lifetime Achievement Award from Women with Wings and Wisdom (2016) Spirit Award from Kansas City Women in Film and Television (2016) Honored at Les Dames d'Escoffier Fundraiser Gala; Vancouver (2017) Queens Ambassador Awards from Community News Group (2017) Recipient of Grand Dame Award by the Les Dames D' Escoffier International
Bastianich lives in Queens, New York, with her mother, Erminia Motika. Bastianich's own kitchen has served as the stage set for all four of her television series, and the garden that Erminia maintains provides many of the ingredients featured in the shows. Erminia, who answers to "grandma," frequently serves as a sous-chef in various episodes of the television series.
Joe Bastianich occasionally appears in his mother's series to offer wine expertise. He and their three children live in Greenwich, Connecticut, while his wife Deanna lives in New York City.
Tanya Bastianich Manuali, with her husband Corrado Manuali and their two children, lives just a few blocks away from her mother. Tanya is integrally involved in the production of Lidia's public television series as an owner and Executive Producer of Tavola Productions, and is active daily in the family restaurant business.
In an interview by American Public Television, Bastianich spoke of how important it is for her to pass on family traditions:
Bastianich is also a devout Roman Catholic.
Lidia Bastianich is an active member of society who participates in community service activities and special events on behalf of several foundations. She is a founding member of Les Dames d’Escoffier and Women Chefs and Restaurateurs, two non-profit organizations of women leaders in the food and hospitality industries.
Bastianich is on the Board of the Arrupe College, a higher education program founded by the Loyola University of Chicago for underprivileged students, and regularly hosts Fundraisers for the program at Eataly in Chicago. BoysGrow, a local non-profit vocational training program, is another organization that she works with by hosting annual Benefit Dinners since 2013 at her restaurant Lidia’s in Kansas City. In addition, she has helped raise funds for United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM)- now known as UN Women- as co-chair of charity events and Benefit Dinners throughout her career.
Bastianich is also actively involved with various non-profit organizations that are focused on promoting and celebrating Italian and Italian-American culture and heritage. She is part of the National Organization of Italian American Women's Distinguished Board, a national organization for women of Italian ancestry that focuses on preserving Italian heritage, language and culture. In 2010, the Bastianich family was honored by NOIAW for their outstanding contributions to Italian culture in America.
She supports the Columbus Citizens Foundation, a non-profit organization focused on promoting and celebrating Italian-American heritage. She was the Grand Marshal of the Columbus Day Parade in New York City in 2007, and an honorary guest at the 2016 Columbus Celebration Kickoff Event at Eataly Downtown in New York City.
Moreover, Bastianich has worked with the Italian American Committee on Education (IACE), a New York-based non-profit organization that promotes the study of Italian language and culture, by visiting elementary schools and speaking to students as a guest speaker, such as in 2011 in Harlem and in 2014 in the Bronx. In 2014, Bastianich led the committee that determined the winners of a contest initiative launched by Eataly and IACE for students.