'Food Is Love': Lidia Bastianich On Osso Bucco & Gastrosexuals

lidia bastianich with son joe bastianich

NYC-based chef and restaurateur Lidia Bastianich dishes on food, love & her son Joe's tough guy rap.

You mentioned earlier that it's important to keep your partner's health in mind. What do you do if he doesn't have great eating habits?

You want to honor what he prefers, but you can control the amount and the balance of the meal. If he likes meat, get the best quality steak that you can. Cook what he wants, but surround it with vegetables. Be seasonal all the time. Squash, swiss chard instead of potatoes, salads. Salads are not very romantic, but I think you need to balance the meal.

Aim for diversity. Stimulate your palate. Mentally gratify yourself. Offer lots of flavors. Start with olives, pickled peppers, I have a marinated vegetable recipe in my new book—you could make that in advance. Do something to get the tastebuds started.

And then fruit is always delicious at the end, plus a little port.

There's a dating site that matches people based on their food preferences. What do you think, do compatible palates a compatible couple make?

It's not required, but I think it adds a big element of understanding and mutual appreciation. You know, in a relationship there's the amorous part, the bed part is great. But then there's the breakfast, lunch & dinner that you'll need to spend together for the rest of your lives, so you want compatibility there.

There's an old Italian saying that translates to say "in bed and at the table, you should have no restraints."

What do you think about couples with mismatched eating styles? For example, she's a vegan, he's a meat eater. Can they make it work?

It can work. It would take extra effort. When you like something and enjoy it together, it's unifying, an entanglement.

We recently wrote about the fact that more and more men are taking up cooking at home as a "hobby" rather than as a household chore—one paper called it the rise of the "gastrosexual"—do you think this is a move in the right direction?

I hear it all the time. Guys are watching the show, getting my book. They're luring their women this way. They are positioning themselves as domestics. Food is the way of showing emotion. Men have a harder time showing emotions, so cooking is a magnificent way for them to communicate.

I think women feel somewhat liberated. Women don't have so much time to evolve their culinary skills today, so it's a relief for a woman to be in the kitchen together with her partner. Spending time in the kitchen together is a good way to bond. 

What's the better first-date drink: coffee or a cocktail?

Depends what time of the day it is. If it's afternoon, get a cappuccino or a latte, but don't get it in plastic cups please! Get it at the bar, with water, a cookie. In evening, you're ready for prosecco, a glass of wine. Something light. I wouldn't order a martini on the first date! Choose an elegant place. Much better to worry about the ambience than the drink. The place you choose will tell the person what you like, who you are.

Your son Joe is known as the tough-guy judge on MasterChef. Is he really such a tough guy?

He's so soft; he's butter soft. But he's very professional. He was in Wall St. business, then came back to the restaurant business because he loves it. He's tough because he knows so much about food. He grew up in the kitchen. He loves cooking. Has three kids. Always doing something on the stove. His wife Deanna appreciates it, with three kids!

I think it becomes a chore for the wife to entertain—in his case, he does it. Puts out a big spread of antipasto, does it in an easy way, which is important, to be relaxed when you entertain. As a couple, you can sit, have a glass of wine, plan the menu. Collaboration. Good for relationships. Men need to shine in the home as well. The kitchen is one way they can.