TORONTO - Make every dish unique. That might be the best way to describe Lidia Bastianich’s culinary philosophy.
Lidia is everyone’s favourite Nonna: chef, best-selling cookbook author, restauranteur and Emmy award-winning television host.
Cooking is in her DNA. Italian-born, now American, Lidia Bastianich personifies the ability to converge the diversity and innovation of her homeland with the products of the local environment to produce inviting meals.
Modest, she praises the American-Italian and Canadian-Italian ingenuity in discovering ways to embrace traditional cooking techniques with indigenous ingredients and flavours.
“Both are adaptations of an immigrant culinary culture,” she says. “As immigrants move to another country, they bring their culture with them. That means food, music, holiday traditions, etc.” she emigrated to the USA when she was 12 years old.
In a country like Canada, you can’t look at the food landscape without seeing the impact of local and global influences. Yet, a rather particular, if not unique cuisine, has emerged.
To commemorate Canada’s 150th anniversary, this year’s RC Show showcases the components of “Canada’s culinary mosaic”.
Bastianich’s culinary journey and career help illustrate what Canadian cuisine means, especially to the Italian community and lovers of Italian cuisine.
One can’t look at cuisine in a country like the U.S. or Canada without seeing how the world – Italy in particular - has helped shape and inspire menus, and vice versa.
“I would say that the tomato has probably had the biggest impact [on Canadian cuisine],” she says. “Extra virgin olive oil and the different authentic Italian cheeses have also made a significant impression on Canadian cuisine.”
The same can also be said for North America’s impact on Italian gastronomy.
“Italian Americans did not initially find many of their agricultural products when they arrived; but meat was much less expensive than in their homeland. Therefore, many Italian American sauces became heavier on the meat than their Italian counterparts. In addition, there weren’t as many herbs, so adding more garlic or onions to flavour a sauce was a typical way to adapt that flavour to the new home,” she adds.
Whether it’s Alberta beef or P.E.I oysters from the East Coast, food changes as the landscape does. But, any Italian (no matter where born) can agree, what’s most important in Italian cuisine is freshness and seasonality. That is a notion that transcends geography. It holds true in Bastianich’s food.
Some of her earliest childhood food memories were of picking and savouring fruits and vegetables from the family garden, or fishing with her uncle and enjoying their catch hours later. “That tradition still remains in Italy and is what I love the most about the country. It’s what I continuously talk about when teaching about Italian food.”
Although items like Canadian maple syrup have found a way into her go-to ingredient list, fresh staples like garlic, San Marzano tomatoes, Grana Padano, extra virgin olive oil and dry pasta can never be replaced.
It seems fitting to ask, “What would Canada’s food scene be without the impact of Italians?”
For Lidia the answer is simple. “Italians love vegetables and fruits. Canada produces so many wonderful vegetables even New Yorkers import. Moreover, Canadian-Italian immigrants have mastered the science of cheese making and meat curing developed and learned in Italy. These are now the mainstays of family meals everywhere in the country.”
Corriere Canadese’s own Publisher, the Honourable Joseph Volpe, today at 1p.m. sits down with Lidia Bastianich live, on stage at RC Show 2017, to talk about her culinary journey and how her Italian heritage has shaped her cuisine.