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Celeb chef Lidia Bastianich writes of the American dream in new memoir

Lidia Matticchio Bastianich holds a copy of her new memoir, "My American Dream: A life of Love, Family and Food," at Eataly Chicago, on April 20, 2018| Annie Costabile/Sun-Times

Celebrity chef, author and restaurateur Lidia Bastianich made her way to Eataly Chicago this weekend to meet with fans during a cooking class and book signing for the Italian marketplace’s specially titled “Lidia Day.”

Bastianich, 71, who is a partner in the Eataly chain of restaurant/shops, was in Chicago promoting her new memoir, “My American Dream: A Life of Love, Family, and Food.”

She calls her story “an immigrant story,” as the memoir details Bastianich’s life journey — from fleeing communism in her native Istria and spending two years in a refugee camp as a child, to finding success in America. She said she’d always thought of writing a memoir for her grandkids, but thought readers only wanted to hear about her cooking.

“All along I thought people just wanted … Lidia’s recipes, Lidia’s cooking techniques, Lidia’s tips. But with each book I included more and more personal stories and people responded very positively,” Bastianich said.

While she’s achieved the American dream and then some as a well-known TV host, author of a dozen cookbooks and owner of several restaurants, Bastianich said she simply hoped to find freedom when coming to the states.

“My plan was, you know, just initially to come to a place where we could be free, where I could speak my language, where I could practice my religion, where I could have a … roof over my head, because as an immigrant, you’re a floater,” Bastianich said. “And then having come here and received all of those and many, many more opportunities, it’s really extraordinary.”

Bastianich said her most defining life moments were being a mother and grandmother. While her grandchildren are older now, she said they still come to her for cooking advice.

“I get emails from the … two that are in a college: ‘Grandma, how did you make that?’ and ‘Grandma, how do you make this?’ and I know that they’re cooking for their friends,” Bastianich said.

Bastianich said she thinks people will take away a sense of confidence from reading her memoir and seeing the obstacles she overcame.

“If I did it, everybody out there can overcome their hurdles in life and make it happen, everybody in their own way,” she said.

Bastianich will be hosting a book signing 4:30-6 p.m. Saturday at Eataly, 43 E. Ohio St.