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Lidia Bastianich on Eataly Chicago, Teaching, and 30 Years of Felidia in NYC

As part of the Cayman Cookout 2014, Eater interviewed chefs poolside at the Ritz-Carlton. Up next: Lidia Bastianich. (Check out yesterday's interview with Rick Bayless and last week's interview with Anthony Bourdain.)

[Photo: Raphael Brion/]

It's been a busy few months for chef/restaurateur/television personality Lidia Bastianich. Eataly Chicago opened to enormous crowds, her restaurant Lidia's Kansas City celebrated its 15th anniversary, and she hosted events at the annual Identità Golose in New York City. Bastianich and her NYC restaurant Felidia's chef de cuisine Fortunato Nicotra stopped by to talk to Eater about the opening of Eataly Chicago, the importance of teaching both home cooks and restaurant chefs, and the staying power of Felidia. Bastianich also reveals plans for renovations at Felidia. Here's what she had to say:

Tell us a little bit about what you are doing for your events here.
Lidia Bastianich: You know, [I presented] dishes that I felt that the audience could really look at it, follow it, and make it at home. They promised they would. I said, "I don't know guys. I'm not following but you promise to. Go get cooking."

I wanted to ask you about Eataly Chicago. How's that going?

Chicago ate us out of house and home.

LB: It's going great. With the vortex coming from the north we had a few days that where we were frozen but otherwise the first week we had to close one day because they ate us out of house and home. We had to replenish.
Fortunato Nicotra: We had nothing.
LB: And we had nothing. We had to shut down completely down one day to refurbish and it's going very well. It's going very well. I'm going up there in March to open La Scuola. I love teaching. I love passing on. That's going to open in March so it's exciting.

You are going to go out there and do classes?
LB: Yeah, classes, opening, invite the press, you know the usual. We already have a program out on mind. The official opening is going to be in March, and that's it, and we are looking on. I think it's LA, Sao Paolo, Brazil. It's exciting.

That's a lot.

In today's world it's about the economics.

LB: It's a lot, yeah, but it's a good team. Our Italian partners are very anxious, and they want to [be] very economically stable, and they bring a lot of the security of the Italian know-how. It's a good team, a stable team. I think in today's world it's about the economics of it if you are stable. We always take on somewhat of a local partner. We didn't do that in Chicago but in Sao Paolo, in foreign countries, yeah.

Very nice. What is your role as dean exactly?
LB: Actually setting up the whole program, the value of the program, checking on the classes offered, the diversity, bringing the ideas of key people, being there. Also working with the staff, training with them — and especially when I do the class they are all around so that they can pick it up — but just to make sure that we have a program.

It's not hands on. In all of the classes the students observe everything. They get an opportunity to ask questions. They taste everything. It's like in a format of a meal. Not only do they taste the food they also always have wine paired with it. We have wine experts talking about the wine. It's all about the education of every aspect of it. The wine, the products, the pairing, opening to questions. We give them a list of ingredients. They can go out and shop for the ingredients and go home and cook it and they've tasted it. I think what's very important is in seeing it. They get the recipe, you taste it. I think you can go home. That's three quarters of the way there.

That's what you do, right? You are an educator. You have the television, you have the cookbooks.
LB: Yeah. Now I see myself even with my staff. Like Felidia, it's his baby. He runs Felidia, but that's what I see. I see these great connections with mentoring however I have. I just love it. Even from restaurant to restaurant, cooking, talking about menus, teaching.

How is Felidia doing?

It's all about the team and exalting each individual chef.

FN: I think after 32, 33 years ... Not that many restaurants of that age are still around. We have a few restaurants was developed in more or less in the same time as Felidia and unfortunately they are no more; for rent reasons or for other reasons.
LB: I think we are fresh as ever. People just told me yesterday "We came back from Italy and this is better" and I know because they tell us that. I think what's great about it is that he is Italian. He had his education and all of that. He [has been] here 18 years now. You know it's very important at least at Felidia because we depend a lot on the chefs. It's about the chef. It would be hard to think that either myself or Mario or Joe cook and run all 26 restaurants or whatever. It's all about the individual team and exalting what each individual chef is good at. I think for Felidia's, as far as having Italian food right on, it's come and eat some.
FN: We are going to do a little renovation in July.

You are going to close down for a little while I guess?
LB: We are going to close down for two weeks and redo everything and he's getting all excited about the menu. We do so much seasonal. We do so much seasonal and so much local product.

· All Lidia Bastianich Coverage on Eater [-E-]
· All Cayman Cookout 2014 Coverage on Eater [-E-]