I had a chance to speak with Lidia, everyone’s favorite Italian TV chef, cookbook author, and restaurateur, who is crisscrossing NJ with public appearances over the coming weeks. I asked her particularly about the live show she will be doing this Sunday (Nov. 6) in Trenton, and about her personal connections to our fair state.
The occasion is the publication of her latest cookbook, Lidia’s Italy in America, a companion to her new TV series of the same name, now airing on PBS stations. The book and series showcase Italian-American food entrepreneurs, farmers, and fishermen across the country (and Lidia’s deft adaptations of their recipes), including several here in NJ.
Me: You held the first Lidia LIVE! show last week in California. How did it go? And exactly how does doing a four-course cooking demo work in large venues?
Lidia: It was very exciting! We had a full house and an enthusiastic audience who really got into it. I am onstage cooking with an assistant. Cameras project it onto a big screen, and one even follows right into the pot. Next to me is set a table for four randomly chosen audience members. I’m cooking and they’re tasting, and they stay there through the entire meal and comment. We have someone from the local [Italian-American food] community warm up the audience; I think that’s nice.
Me: I understand that for the Trenton show, that will be Sam Amico of DeLorenzo’s Tomato Pies, who will demonstrate making his signature pie.
Lidia: Yes, we always ask local resources, like radio stations, who is it that resonates with people in the area. Gary [Amico, also of DeLorenzo’s] was kind of cute when I talked to him. He said, ‘but all I do is put tomato sauce and cheese on dough…’
Me: You and your family lived in North Bergen, in a small house on the Palisades, after you emigrated from Italy in 1958. What are some of your memories of that time?
Lidia: I was twelve when we came to the US. Catholic Charties found us a beautiful ranch house off Kennedy Boulevard, off the park. At night my brother and I would sit on the rocks looking over to the lights of Manhattan. To us that was the universe. I never could have imagined what the future would hold. I always say that this could only happen in America.
Me: You mention in your new book how much you like and appreciate your fans in the Garden State. What makes us stand apart?
Lidia: New Jersey has a high concentration of Italian-American immigrants, and many founded restaurants and specialty foods stores. My fan base is really big here. Maybe part of it is the proximity to New York. They come over, they taste the food at my restaurants, they follow me. At the same time, they live a suburban lifestyle, with all that means about a strong family life. I get a great turnout up and down the state. Also, I have come many times especially to do fundraising for New Jersey Public Television.
Me: One of the NJ businesses you profile in your book and on the show is Maugeri Farms in Woolwich. What made you choose them, and what was your experience there like?
Lidia: They focus on Italian crops, including great tomatoes year round, and two or three eggplant harvests a year. And it’s family run. On our initial call, we found – lo and behold! – they were already fans. When we arrived, they had already set an abundant table, all laid out for us. It reminded me of my parents’ time back in Italy, where everyone working in the fields would sit down together everyday to a hearty meal served with love. The eggplant parmigiano was wonderful!
Tickets to Sunday’s Lidia’s Italy in America LIVE!, at 7 pm at Patriots Theater at the War Memorial in Trenton are still available. Doors open at 5 pm, and a booksigning follows the show. The show also includes a question and answer segment. A portion of the ticket sales goes to Autism Speaks, a cause dear to Lidia’s heart.
Lidia will be holding booksignings in Mendham, Clifton, Paramus, and Freehold.