Lidia Bastianich is a chef, restaurateur, cookbook author, TV personality, entrepreneur and for the purposes of this conversation, most importantly a refugee.
She was born on the Istrian Penninsula to an ethnic Italian family. This is a region on the Adriatic Sea, in modern day Croatia. Following World War Two it was ceded from Italy to the control of Yugoslavia, which was under the communist rule of Marshal Tito. As Lidia explains, policies that Tito enacted lead to the displacement of hundreds of thousands of ethnic Italians, including her family. Historians now refer to this as the Istrian exodus.
I include all this historic background because we kick off discussing a new philanthropic initiative in which Lidia is engaged that seeks to raise both funding and awareness for the education of refugee children.
The initiative is called Adopt-A-Future, and it was launched by the United Nations Association of the United States and USA for UNHCR, for which Lidia is a celebrity ambassador.. Lidia is asking people around the country to hold dinner parties which will serve as fundraisers for the cause of educating refugee children.
In our conversation, we discuss at length Lidia’s refugee experience, which includes living for a time in a converted World War Two concentration camp in Italy before coming to the United States as a resettled refugee. Lidia offers some interesting insights on the salience of culinary traditions to immigration and the refugee experience.
This is a powerful and lively conversation about a lesser known side of a world renowned chef.