Kansas City Food Stars: Lidia Bastianich

Lidia can be considered one of the culinary ambassadors who brought foodie fever to a boil in Kansas City.

Ask Lidia Bastianich what she loves most about being a chef, and the answer is simple: food.

“I just love what food is and how food is such a conduit for our lives,” she says. “Food nourishes us so we can live but it also nurtures us, it expresses our emotions and culture, it talks about the seasons.”

And for Bastianich, being a chef is much like being an artist. Except her medium is, of course, food, something through which she can “express a lot of those sentiments with my hands and myself, and I think that’s a great satisfaction.”

A long-celebrated icon in the culinary world, Bastianich hasn’t been content to confine her talents to the kitchen, instead opting to build a veritable empire that includes several restaurants, an entertainment company called Tavola Productions and Eataly, the largest artisanal Italian food and wine marketplace in New York City created by Bastianich and her son, Joe, along with Mario Batali and Oscar Farinetti.

Yet Kansas City holds a special place in Bastianich’s heart. When she opted to open a restaurant outside the New York, KC was just one of several locations considered. But when Bastianich got a glimpse of downtown’s Freighthouse District, she felt a powerful connection emerge.

“I was charmed by being smack in the middle of the railroad tracks,” she says. “I was told this is where the immigrants came and was their last official stop to stock up and go over the mountain range to California, so that gave me a feeling of what America is and ultimately what it offers.”

Nearly two decades later, Lidia’s Kansas City is in the heart of a thriving downtown that’s in the midst of an unprecedented redevelopment effort. And, as a result, Kansas City Mayor Sly James recently honored Bastianich with a proclamation to thank her for her role in the area’s resurgence.

“I didn’t know the restaurant and some good Italian food would move a whole city, but on the other hand, I know that food is important in many ways in our lives, in making a difference and celebrating our cultures,” she says.

And to Bastianich, Kansas City embodies all that she holds dear.

“To me, a good life is about culture, good food and family,” she says. “The growth of the museums, the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts—it’s beautiful to see that because it tells me that people want a fulfilled life, and food is such a big part of that fulfillment.”

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