How Lidia Bastianich's Relationship With Food Changed After Immigrating - Exclusive

"My connection with food goes way back," Lidia Bastianich told Tasting Table in an exclusive interview after speaking about her newest PBS special, "Lidia Celebrates America: Flavors That Define Us." Bastianich cultivated her culinary career from the ground up after immigrating to the United States at a young age — and her love for food stems from her grandmother. "It was this basic essential of lacking food or being afraid of not having enough and helping Grandma in the production of this," the cookbook author explained.

Bastianich would aid in milking a goat for homemade ricotta cheese, harvesting eggs from chickens, and tending to the garden. The Italian American chef revealed that she had to part from her grandmother while seeking refuge from Yugoslavia and wasn't able to say goodbye properly, and therefore, she translated her love for and experiences with her grandma into a passion for cooking. Bastianich elaborated that the "drive to retain those memories, those flavors, and those aromas ended up in cooking." Rosemary and fresh bay leaves were among some of the most potent smells that made room for positive memories.

Cooking became the connection between Bastianich and her family

The beauty of food is that it establishes a basic connection between loved ones — whether it's simple TV dinners or a hearty Sunday supper. For Lidia Bastianich, the act of cooking reminded her of her adolescent life in Europe before she settled down in North America. "Cooking brought me back to that period and gave me comfort, and I loved it," she continued. "I did it then forevermore. I did it for my family." The sentiment is heartwarming, to say the least, and it kickstarted a longstanding career that has aided millions in the kitchen.

Bastianich described cooking as "the basic connector" and "the sharing of love," and she started to profit economically from her skillset in Italian American cuisine. In the food icon's PBS special (which drops today), she revisits her immigration story and highlights others' cultural journeys traveling from other countries to the United States. As Bastianich herself said, "It all is a basic connection of understanding food, getting the techniques, and nurturing and feeding other people, [which] feeds you back," which is exactly what "Lidia Celebrates America: Flavors That Define Us" emulates!

"Lidia Celebrates America: Flavors That Define Us" airs on May 30 at 9 p.m. ET/8 p.m. CT on PBS and will be available for streaming on PBS' website and the PBS app.