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article imageThe rise of Lidia Bastianich's Italian food empire Special

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By David Silverberg     Aug 29, 2011 in Food
Toronto - Lidia Bastianich is not just the host of a wildly popular TV show on Italian cooking but also joins a long line of celebrity chefs who have launched their own restaurants, pasta sauce and pasta. Bastianich recently spoke about her brand in Toronto.
The lineup curled around the block. Fans eagerly clutched cookbooks, hoping for a signature. They weren't waiting for a Hollywood starlet but instead Lidia Bastianich, renown for her PBS cooking show Lidia's Italy and numerous restaurants across the U.S. At Toronto's All the Best Fine Foods at Yonge and Summerhill, the 64-year-old chef from New York was eager to share her recipe to success and offer advice to budding restaurateurs.
Bastianich knows her Italian food, as the long Toronto lineup can attest. They were eager to pick up her pasta sauce products, such as Garden Vegetable and Eggplant. They flipped through her cookbook, such as Lidia Cooks from the Heart of Italy. As if that's not enough, Bastianich is busy as the chef/owner of four popular New York restaurants — Felidia, Becco, Esca and Del Posto — and a partner, along with her son, Joe Bastianich, Mario Batali and Oscar Farinetti in the 42,500-square-foot Eataly.
The lineup outside a Toronto store where chef Lidia Bastianich appeared
The lineup outside a Toronto store where chef Lidia Bastianich appeared
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She isn't the only busy celeb chef and restaurateur, so how does her brand stand apart from others? "I feel close and connected to my audience," Bastianich says in an interview. "I don’t feel separated from them. There is always an open line of communication and that's made possible because I don’t see myself as some super uber-chef. I just love what I do."
Her enthusiasm comes through when she's asked how she diversifies her Italian offerings to her fans. She says she loves how people can not only visit her restaurants and watch her show to learn about her flair for Italian cuisine; they can buy her homemade pasta sauce and pasta noodles to cook her dishes, for a fraction of the price of going out for dinner. "They can taste Lidia in the privacy of their own home," she beams.
Fans of chef/restaurateur Lidia Bastianich wait for their moment to speak to her in a Toronto store
Fans of chef/restaurateur Lidia Bastianich wait for their moment to speak to her in a Toronto store
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But what about those novice restaurant owners hungry to earn culinary fame? She is quick to point out these people "need to be professionals." She adds, "They need to educate themselves professionally. Be prepared with the adequate capital and work very hard at the restaurant."
In this cutthroat market of foodies and resto celebs, Bastianich recommends offering customers a "beautiful experience," right down to the ambiance of the venue. Only then should people feel comfortable sitting down and following Bastianich's invitation capping off each TV episode: "Tutti a tavola a mangiare" (Everyone to the table to eat).
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