In her PBS special Lidia Celebrates America: A Salute to First Responders, Chef Lidia Bastianich virtually visits men and women who have been on the frontlines during the pandemic, including nurses, firefighters, and EMTs. Bastianich recently spoke with Chef Amy Traverso, co-host of GBH's Weekends with Yankee, about why it was important to celebrate these first responders through food, and what it was like cooking during the pandemic.

Here are some highlights from the conversation. Watch the full interview in the video above.

Amy Traverso: Your new special reminded me of that Mister Rogers quote about when there's a crisis, look for the helpers, as a way of coping with these kinds of traumatic events — and boy, you really brought those helpers right to us.

Lidia Bastianich: For me, it was a 'thank you' to all of these people. With me, I bring food, and I communicate with food, and hopefully, the viewer relates to that and comes with me on this journey and appreciates evermore these first responders.

In the kitchen smiling, Lidia, wearing a purple blouse has her arm around her mother, who wears a green flowered blouse
Lidia and her mother Erminia Motika, who passed away this year at 100
Courtesy of PBS

I'm an immigrant. I wanted to know more about America, about what makes America America. Always food was always at the bottom. We always ended up cooking or eating together.

Traverso: I think so much of the messaging we're seeing right now about our country is about division and conflict, and to use your platform to highlight these people who just give of themselves, who live a life of service, and then the way you bring food into the home and make it so personal, it's just beautiful.

Bastianich: You know the power of food; the magic of food. Inevitably, in every one of these situations, food was like a common denominator. It was a basis that gave these people strength, that brought these people together. It gave them nourishment, emotional and physical. They need a lot of physical strength for fighting those fires.

Traverso: I wonder if you could tell me a little bit about how your cooking may have changed through the pandemic.

Bastianich: My mother, who passed away at 100, she lived with me, and we passed the whole year together. Her passing was rather recent. And so that was, in retrospect, very rewarding that, given this pandemic, as bad as it was and as sad as it was, I had an opportunity to be with my mother and cook for her. One cooks always with love because cooking is nurturing, it's sort of giving; it's extending someone yourself, your flavors. So cooking during the pandemic was almost a reversal to a professional cook, but back to the comforts of home and just nourishing somebody you love.

Watch Lidia Celebrates America: A Salute to First Responders.