The new celebrity and family-filled program 25 Years with Lidia: A Culinary Jubilee is a celebration of Lidia Bastianich’s escape from Communist Yugoslavia to become one of America’s most beloved chefs. It’s also a love letter to public media.

In honor of Bastianich’s silver anniversary on public television, the retrospective invites viewers to join her family and celebrity friends, with an intimate look at the memorable moments of her life, both on and off the screen. Bastianich was born in Istria, which became part of Communist Yugoslavia after World War II. She came to the U.S. as a teenager, worked in local Queens restaurants (including actor Christopher Walken’s family bakery) and built her cooking empire step by step. Walken appears on the program, along with Jacques Pépin and Mary Sue Milliken.

Viewers can watch the episode here.

“Lidia has devoted a huge chunk of her life to supporting and being behind public media,” said Laurie Donnelly, executive producer of GBH Lifestyles programming and creator of tonight’s special. “Years ago, she approached me about working with GBH, based on our reputation and the kind of programming that we've worked on.”

Donnelly didn’t miss a beat.

“I had always been a huge fan of hers. It was instantly, ‘yes, let's work together.’ “

Credit Erika Heymann WGBH.jpeg
Lidia and actor Christopher Walken
Erika Heymann GBH

Bastianich, also a bestselling author, had a mission that went well beyond the kitchen.

“There are people who are on television to be on television and then there are people who are on television because they have a larger mission — Lidia has a true passion for teaching,” said Donnelly. “Lidia is to authentic Italian cooking what Julia Child was to French cuisine.”

The two chefs met in the early 1990s, when Child visited Bastianich’s popular Felidia restaurant in Manhattan. Child was so impressed that she invited Bastianich to appear on her series Julia Child: Cooking with Master Chefs. As Bastianich taught Child how to make risotto, the two bonded with music, laughter and the love of sharing a meal.

The encounter changed Bastianich’s life, leading her to GBH, where, starting with Lidia’s Italian Table, she would introduce her native Italian cuisine to viewers across the U.S. She went on to produce such GBH hits as Lidia's Family Table, Lidia's Italy, Lidia's Italy in America, and Lidia's Kitchen. Most recently she has treated viewers to Lidia Celebrates America, where she discovers real small-town America through its food.

Donnelly, who has worked with dozens of chefs on cooking shows whose cuisines span the globe, remains in awe of Bastianich, her history and her relatability.

“I remember walking down the street with her for the very first time. In one block alone, there must have been 30 people who stopped her to talk, and she spoke with everyone as if they were her best friend. I was blown away,” said Donnelly. “She’s everyone’s favorite Nonna. They don't treat her as a celebrity. They treat her as family — and that's what comes across the screen.”

Explore Bastianich’s life and cookinghere.