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Cooking for the Pope: Lidia Bastianich Comes Full Circle

The Papal Menu, Revealed

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Pope Benedict XVI and Lidia Bastianich, who cooked for the pope while he visited New York City.

For Lidia Bastianich, cooking for Pope Benedict XVI was more than an honor. In her own words, it was a "closing of the circle."

Forty years ago, when Lidia was 12 and living in a refugee camp in Trieste, Italy, with her parents and brother, a Catholic relief organization provided them with safe passage and the proper visas to emigrate to America. But Lidia and her parents had to go to the Vatican to get the blessing of the pope at the time, Pope Paul VI.

So one can only imagine how thrilled she was to cook not one, not two, but three meals for the current pope during his visit to New York City. And Pope Benedict XVI turned out to be a serious eater, which is not surprising, given the fact that his mom was a hotel chef. This is what Lidia and her colleagues served His Holiness.

Saturday Lunch

Lunch on Saturday was a relatively light repast that Lidia and her colleagues, Mark Ladner (Del Posto) William Gallagher (Becco), and Fortunato Nicotra (Felidia), improvised on the spot to work with what the nuns had already prepared for the pope:

Saturday Dinner

Dinner on Saturday was for 52, including all the cardinals from around the world who had gathered in New York City for the pope's visit. Most of the recipes can be found in Lidia's most recent book, Lidia's Italy.

It sounds like a lot of food, and it was, but when you serve the pope, Lidia said, you can't give him too much food at once. Each plate is presented separately because the pope can't be seen as gluttonous, gluttony being one of the seven deadly sins.

Lidia said that, after this meal, she asked the pope whether he enjoyed it. The cardinals laughed, as that's not a question one is supposed to ask the pope, who is supposed to be preoccupied with profoundly important spiritual matters. Nonetheless, Pope Benedict XVI smiled and said he had indeed enjoyed himself.

Sunday Dinner

Dinner Sunday was for the pope's entourage, a mere 24 people. Here's the menu:

After the goulash, the pope said to Lidia, "These are my mother's flavors." Lidia said she almost cried when she heard this. All the wines, Lidia said, were selected by her son, Joe Bastianich, and came from the Bastianich vineyards in Italy.

For Lidia, whose perilous journey to America at the tender age of 12 was blessed and sanctioned during a visit to St. Peter's Basilica some 40 years ago, cooking for the pope was so much more than a celebrity chef taking a star turn. "It was celestial. It meant my life had come full circle. I came to America because a Catholic relief organization provided safe passage, and here I am cooking for, feeding, and nourishing the pope. It doesn't get any better than that, does it?"

Bastianich on Nightline

Last night, Lidia appeared on Nightline, where she talked about the experience.

Part 1
Part 2

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