Lidia Bastianich drives me nuts!

Lidia Bastianich, of course, is the well known TV chef on Lidia’s Italy which is in heavy rotation on my PBS station.  She is also a restaurateur, teaming up with her son Joseph (you saw him this past Fall as one of the judges on Master Chef, along with Gordon Ramsey and Graham Elliot), Mario Batali and other less familiar names to form a web of well regarded restaurants.  Her TV show, on-line web site, restaurants, books, and commercial ventures make Lidia a juggernaut in the food world.

And, she drives me nuts!

I have nothing against her cooking.  I would be happy to eat most anything she cooks. It’s honest Italian cuisine well outside of the spaghetti and meatballs realm.  She often has her mother, who she calls Nonna, on the show at the end to taste that program’s dishes.  Nonna is a hoot and along with Ming Tsai’s mother, Iris, she is one of my favorite TV chef “side-kicks”.  Each, Nonna and Iris, is one of the best things about their respective offspring’s TV shows.

But Lidia caramelizes everything.  She never browns or sears food; she caramelizes it.  I was taught that caramelization is what happens to sugar, and that the browning of meat or potatoes is not caramelization.  In fact, Harold McGee in his book, On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen notes that everything browned is not caramelized.  He explains that caramelization is what happens to sugar – simple sucrose molecules – when exposed to high heat.  The browning that takes place in savory foods like onions, baked bread, roasted coffee beans, potatoes, pork chops or poultry skin is a Maillard reaction – the reaction of a carbohydrate (which may or may not be a sugar) with an amino acid in a hot, dry environment.  He says, “Maillard reactions contribute even more to the pleasures of eating than caramelization does. But of course it doesn’t sound as good on a menu.”  Or on TV apparently.

I know, the chemistry of cooking can get pretty obtuse and I’m not advocating that we start casually including references to Maillard reactions in our daily culinary conversations.  But I could stand to hear a lot less about caramelization.

That having been said, I note that Michael Ruhlman in his book,  The Elements of Cooking: Translating the Chef’s Craft for Every Kitchen (with an Introduction by world-class curmudgeon, Anthony Bourdain) weighs in on the casual use of the term caramelization.  He says, “Technically, caramelization is the name we give to what happens to sugar molecules when they get hot, decompose, and begin to form new compounds.  When we caramelize plain sugar, the sugar takes on many different hues and complex flavors.  We often refer to the browning and sweetening of onions and other vegetables (and almost anything that browns as it cooks, for that matter) as “caramelization.”  But in most instances the browning is … the result of Maillard browning (the reaction of protein and carbohydrates to heat) and not actual caramelization.  The word caramelization remains a meaningful and less awkward term to describe the browning of fruits and vegetables during cooking than the more cumbersome term Maillard browning.”

So, OK, I get the point.  Caramelization is a useful, shorthand for everyday use.  But Lidia still drives me nuts when she uses and overuses it.  And don’t get me started about what her mouth does when she tastes things!


16 thoughts on “Lidia Bastianich drives me nuts!

  1. I’m a Food Network junkie, but have never seen this Lidia…will have to watch for her!

    The person I can’t stand is the cranky woman judge on the Cake Challenge shows: Kerry Vincent. I swear, sugar wouldn’t melt in her mouth (caramelize, maybe!).


  2. Quite the late comer I am to this post..but, YES..Lidia carmelizes everything and it drives me nuts, too. I think she uses the word to bring the viewer into the world of taste through the TV. It’s a word that perks up the senses. I live in Italy and I was in the USA for 6 weeks in Jan-March. I was really into the cooking shows since I haven’t seen then in years. Everybody is carmelizing everything these days. It’s all baloney…carmelized baloney, that is.

  3. My husband is the cook in our family and Lidia’s show is one he watches all of the time. I really don’t have an opinion on carmelization vs browning, but I can tell you that whoever edits the sound for that show should be fired.

    The sound of Lidia smacking her lips when she tastes her food has got to be in the top 5 annoying sounds on TV. Today’s episode included her 2 grandsons. If she vocalized “hmm hmm hmm” once she did it at least 6 times. I finally had to grab the remote from my husband and mute the sound.

    • Like I said, don’t get me started. I saw that episode and I totally agree. The one kid obviously didn’t share grandma’s appreciation of her own cooking. I get the old-world idea of openly appreciating the food one is served but going on about what one has cooked her/his-self is just too much.

  4. I’m really late to this party, but I just had to find other people out there bothered by this. Oh my god… Lydia’s lip smacking is annoying. Is it the way she’s mic’ed? Is it the sound editing? Is she just a loud eater? Her only saving grace is she announces when she is going to taste something so I can mute the tv.

    • I don’t think it’s a production issue. It seems as if it’s akin to practices such as appreciative burping, slurping and smacking found in some European and Asian cultures. Maybe we’re the uncouth ones for not recognizing her oral/guttural sounds as a sign of appreciation – even if it is for her own cooking. It still bothers me.

    • I like to watch her show, but when she eats, all I can think of is Jabba the Hutt – “Ooooh, Ooooh, Ooooh – deez pasta eeez fantastico! Smack, slurp, slurp!”

  5. Me too! It also drives me nuts when she talks about caramelizing meat and other foods that are doing the Millard thing. The solution is not to have to say “Millard” at all. If she simply says “browning,” that would be easy to understand, descriptive, and not incorrect.

    Another Lidia pet peeve: When she uses farro, she mistakenly describes it as a type of barley. She HAS to know that farro is a type of wheat, right?

  6. lol…. agree with all of the posts above! Her food is probably my favorite of most of the PBS cooking shows but she is annoying…the food smacking and especially caramelizing EVERYTHING! What about the way she blows on her food to cool it before tasting it? Errrr!!!

  7. I landed here because I truly wanted to know what others think about this annoying cook. She’s clearly knowledgeable and her food looks great but her mannerisms, … are unattractive. On the other hand, PBS offers actual instruction and I continue to watch.

  8. She drives me nuts with the over use of the word ok and just like that.. ugh… and the smacking slash talking with her mouth full is rude and uncouth IMO

  9. I love Lydia, she is cooking for real, and all the people who criticize her mannerisms etc etc, I say, just don’t watch. Those remarks are snarky and petty.

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