It’s my fault, really. My parents were in town and my mom asked me, early in the week, if I’d babysit my dad for lunch on Tuesday while she met some of her friends. I said, “Sure.” Then, the day before, I received a confirmation e-mail from Lidia Bastianich’s publicist reminding me of a lunch scheduled at Lidia’s restaurant Felidia the next day. I’d RSVPed for two (I was going to bring a more talented photographer friend (why? see picture above)) and so, after some clever thinking, I decided to take my dad.
“What is this again?” asked my dad when I told him about it. “Who is this person?”
“Lidia Bastianich,” I explained. “She’s one of my favorite TV chefs. And she’s hosting a lunch promoting her new cookbook.”
My dad’s a relatively shy dentist and so I assured him he wouldn’t have to do much at this lunch, just sit there and eat. I was a little nervous we’d be at a big communal table, but I kept that thought to myself. I was hoping we’d all be at our own tables, Lidia’d come out to speak, and that would be that.
We got there at the designated time and walked upstairs to the private dining room. There was a big table of cookbooks and then, across the room, a long communal table. Two other women stood in the room with us and that was it. Then Lidia walked in.
“Eek,” I thought to myself. “What if it’s just the five of us? What if my dad has to talk? He’s never seen Lidia’s show! He doesn’t know who she is! And how will I explain why he’s there?”
“Hello,” said Lidia, waking around the room, shaking hands. My dad shook her hand and said his name, she smiled, nodded and moved on to me. More people came. And pretty soon we were at the table, with Lidia at the center, and my dad at the head. Once the table was full, one fact was clear: my dad and I were the only men there.
The pressure was off, though, because Lidia began monologuing in a way that put the entire room at ease. She talked about her new book, “Lidia Cooks from the Heart of Italy,” a book that inspired the meal we were about to eat; she talked about the book’s pictures, taken by Christopher Hirsheimer, and her attempts to branch out on to the web. And that’s when she turned to us and asked us to go around and say who we were, this being a room of bloggers, web people and my dad.
I glanced nervously to my right where my dad gave me a look like: “ruh roh.”
“I’m Adam from The Amateur Gourmet,” I said bravely. “And this,” I said, indicating my dad, “is David Lebovitz.”
My dad looked confused.
Just kidding. I introduced him as my dad, Lidia smiled and said that “family is very important, I bring my mother with me everywhere.”
Phew! A relief.
Then the wine started coming…
And a menu was presented…
The first course was a celeriac salad with apple and a sliver of meat (I can’t quite recall what the meat was):
It was tasty and refreshing, though I noticed my dad picking around it nervously.
The next course my dad devoured: butternut squash risotto.
I loved the zip of balsamic vinegar on top.
The main course was beef braised in beer, a real triumph:
Lidia said, “You can cook chicken like this or even turkey. Imagine how good that would be at Thanksgiving!”
The dessert was a simple rustic dessert of bread, chocolate and whipped cream:
It looks complicated and fancy, but Lidia assured us it was cheap and incredibly easy to do–the recipe, of course, is in the book.
What I haven’t emphasized yet, in this post, is how excited I was to be in Lidia’s presence. Her show is probably the most prominent on my Tivo line-up; I look forward to new episodes each week and think of Lidia’s family as my own, which is why it was so cool that not only did I get to meet Lidia but also present was Tanya, her daughter.
I began to ask questions, emboldened by alcohol. “Sometimes on the show,” I said delicately, “you and Tanya have… disagreements. How do you settle them when you work on a book together?” (Tanya co-wrote the cookbook.)
Tanya answered this one: “We have six recipe testers so every recipe is tested and tested and tested to the point that by the end, we pretty much know what we all think is the best.”
Fair enough. When the conversation turned to Italian cooking vs. French cooking, I asked–again, delicately–why Lidia thoguht there weren’t any four-star Italian restaurants in New York yet? “Well,” she said, “Italians have the most stars combined.” (I’d never thought of that, but if you add up Babbo’s three stars to Marea’s three stars and so on, you’d get a lot of stars.)
Finally, I asked the obvious question, which anyone who’s been following Lidia’s career for a while would be hard-pressed not to ask: “What was it like cooking for the pope?”
“It was the pinnacle of my career,” said Lidia, “both personally and professionally.”
She described the security she had to go through to get to where the pope was staying; she explained her strategy. “I know he’s from Germany, so I decided to cook him food that he’d find familiar. I made schnitzel and I made strudel. And at the end he paid me the highest compliment–he told me it made him think of his mother’s cooking.”
From the pope to my dad, Lidia’s cooked for some of the all-time greats. After the desserts were cleared away, Lidia bid us adieu (or, rather, “ciao”), signing books for us and posing for pictures. And how could I resist snapping a picture of my dad and his new best friend?
He was dubious at first, but by the end he was won over.
“She’s a very impressive woman,” said my dad, as we were leaving. “You can see why she’s successful, being able to talk to a whole table like that. If I had to do that, I’d die.”
Two worlds collided at Felidia that day, but they produced a new world, a world where dentistry and cookery can co-exist in absolute harmony, as Lidia and my dad sing out together–as she does at the end of every show: “Tutti a Tavola a Mangiare!”