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A Heartland Holiday Feast: Celebrity Chef Lidia Bastianich Takes Viewers On A Cross-Country Journey

A Heartland Holiday Feast

Get a taste of America’s diverse heritage and culinary traditions with Lidia Bastianich, James Beard Award-winning celebrity chef, as she visits rural communities across the nation. Travel on an intimate journey bringing people and places together through food, and share the flavors and folklore of holiday cooking.

In Lidia Celebrates America: A Heartland Holiday Feast, Bastianich explores the small rural towns and farmlands that make up the nation’s Heartland, where more than 50 million Americans live. In each place, she connects with a local chef known for ethnic and regional specialties. Some of the people she visits have been there for generations, others are new arrivals.

Bastianich came to America at the age of 12, fleeing communism in Europe. She values firsthand the importance of cherishing old customs while embracing a new culture. On this cross-country adventure, she learns that every holiday recipe tells a valuable story about each family’s history and traditions. “Small towns are the heart of our nation—rich in traditions that are brought here and then handed down generation after generation,” said Bastianich.

Her Emmy-winning show Lidia’s Kitchen, co-produced each week by WGBH, invites cooking devotees of all persuasions to try their hand at creating authentic Italian dishes for friends and family. Celebrating 20 years on PBS this year, she credits the success of her series to another WGBH legend, Julia Child, who invited Bastianich to be on her Master Chef series decades ago.

In this holiday special, Bastianich retraces her rural roots in Sunbury, Pennsylvania, where she went to high school, returning to Pennsylvania Dutch country to meet with chef Bonnie Boyer, who shows her how to make succotash and shoo-fly pie. From there, she heads to Natchitoches, Louisiana, where she makes a delicious gumbo with Lillie Delphin, renowned for her Creole cooking.

During a trip to Denton, Texas, Bastianich discovers the secret to making traditional Christmas tamales from a Mexican family who owns Milpa’s Kitchen, a local restaurant, and she visits a thriving community of Hmong refugees in Wausau, Wisconsin, who escaped Laos after the Vietnam War. There, she gets treated to a favorite ceremonial dish of pork and greens.

Bastianich finds some of the best barbecue around in Lawton, Oklahoma, dining on a traditional dinner of salted pork, cornbread, baked beans, dumplings and coffee on an open fire with descendents of Buffalo soldiers, African American soldiers who served on the western frontier after the Civil War and helped the US expand westward. Up north, she gets a taste of ice house fishing when she travels with her grandson to the tiny town of Walker, Minnesota, for an old family recipe for leftse, a Scandinavian dish similar to crepes and fried eelpout nuggets, made from an indigenous fish.

Inspired by her travels, Bastianich then prepares a holiday meal for a gathering of friends, family and people she has met on the journey. “Lidia Bastianich knows better than anyone that food is a universal language creating bonds between friends, families and communities,” said WGBH Executive Producer Laurie Donnelly. “Lidia Celebrates America: A Heartland Holiday Feast brings that language to life.”

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