Lidia Bastianich Explores the Immigrant Experience in ‘Lidia Celebrates America: Flavors That Define Us’
May 25, 2023
A child immigrant who grew up to become an award-winning chef, TV host, author, and restaurateur, Lidia Bastianich visits immigrants and refugees from around the world to explore what it means to be an American in Lidia Celebrates America: Flavors That Define Us. The show premieres May 30 on PBS and streams on PBS.org and the PBS app.
“Whether coming for safety, opportunity, or a better quality of life, immigrants like me have added to America’s rich and diverse tapestry of culture, religion, and food,” Bastianich said. “I feel lucky that my family was welcomed in the United States, and I am excited to share these stories of more recent immigrants, and those born to immigrants, in ‘Lidia Celebrates America: Flavors that Define Us.’”
Bastianich, whose homeland, Istria, was ceded to communist Yugoslavia, was just 10 years old when her family escaped to Italy. There she was exposed to many of the Italian dishes that she later popularized in the U.S. In her new special, presented by GBH with support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, she travels across the country to meet and cook with immigrants, drawing out human connections and understanding that help promote a civil society. Their family stories are also compelling:
- In Hartsville, South Carolina, Bastianich meets Polina Frishko and her son Damir, who fled war-torn Ukraine and escaped to Poland when Russia invaded last year. They made their way to the U.S. and Hartsville, where they were sponsored by local residents Kathy and Dennis McGowan.
- In Reynoldsburg, Ohio, she spends a day cooking with immigrant Bhuwan Pyakurel and his wife, Dil. Pyakurel was elected to the Reynoldsburg City Council in 2020, becoming the country’s first elected Nepali-Bhutanese official.
- In Louisville, Kentucky, Bastianich learns to make ropa vieja, a classic Cuban dish, from restaurateur Marcos Lorenzo. She also meets with Jorge Castellanos, a local English teacher who sings a traditional Cuban folk song with her.
- In Bakersfield, California, she meets almond farmers and truck drivers from the Indian state of Punjab and Balvinder Singh Sainis, who opened a small roadside restaurant, or “dhaba,” to provide truckers with heathier food choices.
- In Houston, Bastianich cooks with blind chef Christine Ha, winner of the third season of “Master Chef.” Ha, born in America to immigrant parents, talks about losing her mother and her family’s Vietnamese food dishes at an early age.
- In Washington D.C., Bastianich hosts a potluck dinner with notable local chefs who each bring a dish of their heritage: Eric Adjepong (Ghana), Mile Montezuma (Venezuela), Kevin Tien (Vietnam), Jeanine Prime (Trinidad and Tobago), Kazi Mannan (Pakistan), Naz Ash (Iran), and Toyin Alli (Nigeria).
In addition to the hourlong special, Bastianich hosts a digital companion series of three short cooking videos, starting with Making Eggs Jeannette with Jacques Pepin, a French immigrant.
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