Profession: Chef, TV personality, author, restaurateur
Hometown: Pula, Croatia (when it was part of Italy)
The car: 2012 Mercedes-Benz S500
- Cookbooks include Lidia’s Favourite Recipes, Lidia’s Italy in America, Lidia Cooks from the Heart of Italy and Lidia’s Italy
- TV shows include Lidia Celebrates America, Lidia’s Family Table, Lidia’s Italian-American Kitchen, Lidia’s Italian Table and La Cucina di Lidia
- Owner of four acclaimed New York City restaurants – Felidia, Becco, Esca and Del Posto – as well as Lidia’s Pittsburgh and Lidia’s Kansas City
- Opened Eataly, an artisanal Italian food and wine marketplace in New York City, with her son Joe Bastianich, Mario Batali and Oscar Farinetti
- Syndicated TV series Lidia’s Italy in America and Lidia’s Italy air across North America; in Canada on TLN
- With her son, produces award-winning wines at Bastianich Vineyard in Friuli and La Mozza Vineyard in Maremma, Italy
- Her second children’s book, Lidia’s Family Kitchen: Nonna’s Birthday Surprise, comes out this spring
She's a master of Italian-American cuisine who has just been inducted into the 2013 Culinary Hall of Fame.
Chef and best-selling cookbook author Lidia Bastianich hosts two TV series and also has a gastronomic empire consisting of six restaurants in the United States, a line of sauces, pastas and kitchenware, a winery in Italy and a travel agency specializing in culinary trips to Italy.
Bastianich often takes her culinary skills to the stage, too – she was just in Toronto for Saputo Presents ... Lidia's Italy Live! On set and on stage, she is lively and larger than life. On the road, she prefers to blend in with the crowd driving an elegant and stately 2012 Mercedes-Benz S500 sedan.
Why did you buy a Mercedes-Benz S500?
I like the 500. It is roomy. It is stable. It is slick, but yet the lines are subdued.
It's very simple. I have a black car with a black interior. It's straightforward.
It's about me feeling safe, comfortable and having the security when I drive my grandchildren that everything is fine.
It's an intelligent car – it tells me when I'm too close to something. I love how the trunk opens and closes by pressing a button.
My car doesn't have an oven in it – I don't cook with it. But I carry a lot with it.
What don't you like about it?
There's nothing major that I don't like.
What does a Mercedes-Benz say about you?
I don't like flashiness. I like elegance. It's like a beautiful suit made of gabardine with fine lines. It doesn't have to be purple and orange.
If it has fine lines and it's finely made – it's the same philosophy I have for food. I don't like to over-fabricate. I love good products. I love when they're nourishing and not too elaborate.
I enjoy the elegance and look of it and it's not overly in your face.
If it were an Italian dish what would it be?
It would be a nice grilled branzino with some glistening olive oil, truffle, and a squeeze of lemon.
What was your first car?
This is going way back, when we had the first restaurant. It was a Chevrolet station wagon so we could carry things around.
Before we had our restaurant in 1969, we went all the way to Stuttgart to get the Mercedes diesel. We drove it all the way from Stuttgart, where the factory is, into Italy. We kept that forever – that car lasted. It was economical.
After that, we had some Volvos and then we went to Mercedes.
What do you drive in Italy now?
We have a winery up in Friuli and I drive a Tempo.
We have a Wrangler, too, for going up and down the hills. It's like a tank. It goes around the vineyard. I like that, too. It has to be appropriate for the territory.
Do you prefer driving a stick over an automatic?
In Europe, especially when we're by the vineyard in Friuli near the big hills of the Alps, I like the hugging of the roads you get with a stick shift. But otherwise, with traffic in the States, automatic is the way to go.
Do you like speed?
I'm a prudent driver. But if the road is appropriate, music playing and beautiful scenery, I like speed.
If you drive around the coastlines it's beautiful. You look at the sea, the sunset, the car, the music – it creates a moment.
What is special about the car, I think, in today's world where we're so much surrounded, the car can be your own space.
People always ask me, 'Do you have a driver? How do you go back and forth?' I drive.
I like to drive because that's the time I have to myself. I make my calls for the day or whatever I need to do. Going home, I put some music in the background and I review the day. It's a special kind of reserved space that we can each have for ourselves.
Have any of your cars ever broken down and left you stranded?
When we first came here as immigrants. My father was a mechanic and he had bought a red car. My brother was 18 and he was going to take me and my friends for a ride. Somehow we had a meltdown of the motor in the middle of Long Island and our father had to come with someone else and get us.
In those times, we're talking more than 40 years ago, it was a big deal. All the kids were on the side of the road waiting for my father to come. He didn't come too happy.
What's your best and worst driving story ever?
The worst goes way back when we had the restaurant and the station wagon.
We used to go to the market and buy the meat, the chicken, the fish. We made this metal pan where we would place these boxes with the chicken and the ice. By the time we got to the restaurant, the ice would melt and the pan would fill. You'd make a short stop and the whole smelly chicken or fish water would spill. It wasn't smelly then, but once it spilled and you didn't wash it, the next day it would smell. And I was stuck with cleaning it up!
Some of the best – I did a little racing in the Alps. Up in Friuli, going up those hills, they really grab me.
Putting the car under the fig tree and using it to reach the height to pick the fruit! That's the best!
If I can bring you the keys to any vehicle what would it be?
I would like to have a red Ferrari and I tell you why. I was invited out to Mondavi up in the Napa Valley. Bob and his wife, Margrit, have this beautiful house up on the hill with a long driveway.
I go there with the other guests and we're having cocktails. Rob Mondavi was there – Margrit wasn't there yet. All of a sudden, zoom! Up the driveway came Margrit in a red Ferrari. She must have been in her late 70s then. She was wearing a baseball cap and popped out, 'Sorry I'm late!' I looked at her and thought when I'm her age that's what I want to do!
This interview has been edited and condensed.