It feels like an ordinary morning in South Norwalk. Restaurants are opening their doors and a few pedestrians have started to meander down Main Street. People are easing into their daily routines. There is no fanfare or paparazzi… no indication that culinary legend Lidia Bastianich and her team have quietly taken over Clarke Kitchens to film the latest season of Lidia’s Kitchen!
Lidia Bastianich’s extensive career is filled with an array of accomplishments. Her four New York City restaurants, Felidia, Becco, Esca and Del Posto, as well as Lidia’s Pittsburgh and Lidia’s Kansas City, have received widespread acclaim. She also joined forces with her son Joe Bastianich, Mario Batali, and Oscar Farinetti to open Eataly, an Italian food and wine marketplace. In addition to her achievements as a restaurateur, she is an Emmy award-winning public television host, cookbook author, broadcast production company founder, and businesswoman.
Bastianich has chosen Norwalk to film 26 episodes for the fourth season of Lidia’s Kitchen. The television series, which is sponsored by Cento and Grana Padano, will air on PBS Public Television Network starting October 8, 2016. Each 30 minute episode revolves around a certain theme or ingredient and presents recipes based on it.
I had the chance to visit Clarke Kitchens to get a glimpse of what the production entails.
When I arrived, I was met by Jeni Mistretta, the Production Manager. Filming was underway, so she started off my visit by escorting me through the “backstage” portions of the showroom.
Clarke Kitchens provides the perfect backdrop for the production. 2016 marks the fourth year Bastianich has used the space.
“We found them a couple of years ago, and they have been so good to us,” says Minstretta. “It’s like a playroom for us. There are multiple kitchens for us to use. We come in and transform the space.”
One of the kitchens was curtained off and served as the set for the filming itself. In another kitchen, the culinary team was hard at work prepping ingredients. In yet another kitchen, ingredients and tools were in place and ready to be used in upcoming segments. Still another kitchen had an assortment of snacks for the team- including several leftovers from tapings that had been made by Bastianich herself.
“We eat Lidia’s food for the most part,” admits Mistretta with a smile. However, they have had the chance to dabble in the local culinary scene.
“When we do need something, the SoNo Bakery has been amazing to us,” she says.
In total, the team consists of about 30 people. It includes a culinary team, props department, camera crew, hair and makeup, management, sound, and lighting. A day of filming begins around 7 or 8 in the morning and will last for 10 or 12 hours. Adoration for Lidia and comradery within the group powers them through the long days.
“We all feel so lucky to be here with Lidia,” says Mistretta. “She really is the loveliest person ever. She is incredibly talented and one of those people that chefs look up to.”
Later, I had the chance to go onto the set to observe some of the actual production. I entered the room in time to see cameramen working with Lidia to perfect the shots of the finished food. Every detail proved important; they spent several minutes discussing how to best present and position the parsley to make it most visually appealing. Once satisfied, Lidia stepped away so that the cameraman could get shots of just the dish. I was informed that every segment of filming ends that way so that the finished recipe is recorded.
Once satisfied with those visuals, Lidia and the team began working on the next segment. Each leg of filming starts with a “walk-through.” Together, they go over exactly what will take place in the episode so that filming can unfold fluidly.
“The show is sort of filmed live,” explains Mistretta. “What I mean by that is that we don’t really go back and do multiple takes.”
The walk-through began with a production member pitching Lidia a fan question. In each episode, Lidia uses a query from a viewer to introduce the theme of the episode. In this case, she wanted to formulate a question that would best address the topic of sugar.
Next, they started going over the logistics of the recipe itself. They discussed the tools to be used and located the proper pots and pans for the segment. Then, Lidia started going through the upcoming events step by step. She explained what she would do out loud while the camera team followed her around and analyzed the best angles to capture her movements. Once everyone felt comfortable that they knew exactly what was happening, they were ready to start filming!
Lidia Bastianich and her team will be in town until Tuesday May 17. Be sure to catch this season of Lidia’s Kitchen starting October 8, 2016 on PBS Public Television Network!