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Local Catholic and TV chef Lidia Bastianich got a chance to cook for Pope Benedict XVI when he was in New York — and helped him cut a birthday cake.
BY ANGELO STAGNAROREGISTER CORRESPONDENT
NEW YORK — What did the Pope eat? It’s not the first concern
after a papal visit, but it’s an interesting question to raise after the main
events have been considered.
The answer: Pope Benedict XVI was feted with Italian food
while here in America.
“The Pope likes his privacy and frankly, his message is
spiritual and I’m sure he doesn’t want people to waste time thinking about what
he’s going to eat,” said TV chef Lidia, who cooked for him in New York.
“Breaking bread with people is by far more important than knowing how I baked
But she did share the experience of serving the Pope — who
is her own spiritual father. She is a parishioner at St. Anastasia in Queens.
“My faith and spirituality are important to me,” she said. “I try to be as good
as I can!”
Lidia Matticchio Bastianich, 60, and her event planner
Angelo Vivolo, 61, owner of New York City’s Bruschetteria Restaurant, prepared
the meals for the Holy Father together.
Lidia was in charge of the menu and the cooking while Vivolo
was in charge of the logistics of the two meals.
Lidia is star and producer of PBS’ highly successful
“Lidia’s Italy,” where she teaches viewers how to cook as well as their
grandmothers did. She operates four restaurants throughout the United States,
including Felidia and Becco in midtown Manhattan, and cooked for the Holy
“Archbishop Celestino Migliore, the nuncio to the United
Nations, approached me, and asked if I would consider cooking for the Pope,”
Lidia explained. “I had no idea it was coming. I was taken aback. I almost fell
to the floor.”
Serving the Pope
Lidia’s brigade de cuisine included Chef Fortuno Nicotro of
her restaurant, Felidia, located in Manhattan’s midtown, Chef Mark Ladner of
Del Posto and Chef Billy Gallagher of Becco. Pastry Chef Biagio Settepani
designed a humorous, miter-shaped chocolate-hazelnut cake for one of the Pope’s
The two meals were served at the residence of Archbishop
Celestino Migliore, permanent observer of the Holy See to the United Nations.
“Sister Isabella has been in charge of the nunciature’s
kitchen for 25 years and we’re using her staff to cook the meals,” Vivolo
explained, “That way we don’t have to bring in any extra staff which will help
in terms of security.”
Lidia’s son Joseph, who is an expert oenologist, served as
sommelier (wine steward) during both meals. Despite this, Vivolo, who is also
the chairman of Columbus Week Celebration and a Trustee of the Columbus
Citizen’s Foundation, served as the Pope’s personal wine steward during both
“The protocol at a papal meal is incredible,” said Vivolo.
“It was very complex but I can say now that I stood behind the Pope for two
days. It was an honor to serve as his personal wine steward. I was completely
humbled by the experience.”
“Everything went perfectly,” said Lidia. “The food, the
execution, the protocol, the service, the pouring of the wine. Everything! It
was perfect not just because we think so but also because the Pope and
Archbishop Migliore kept telling us how wonderful everything was.”
The epicures revealed a beautiful and very human side of the
Pope when they reminisced about their favorite moments during the two meals
“The most memorable moment for me was when the Pope was
trying to cut the cake and he didn’t know where to aim the knife so I gently
took his hand in mine and guided him,” Lidia said with a wide grin.
“Lidia has always been very motherly,” joked Vivolo.
When asked as to the highlights of the meals, Vivolo found
it difficult to stop at only one or two.
“I have many wonderful memories of the experience. There
were so many. For example, I had a chance to kiss His Holiness’ ring,” Vivolo
“At the end of the first meal, the Pope graciously asked to
meet the brigade,” he said. “Billy Gallagher, the Executive Chef at Becco’s,
offered his children’s rosary beads to His Holiness and asked him to bless
them. We were all moved.”
“There was a small concert of classical Bach pieces, three
musicians, and we were all invited to listen,” said Vivolo. “It was an intimate
gathering at Archbishop Migliore’s residence. Only eight other people were
there and we were allowed to invite who we wanted. Lidia invited her mother, brother
and sister-in-law. I invited my wife, Denise. We all had the honor of being
introduced to the Pope. It was wonderful.”
“He kept thanking us for the food over and over and over,”
“But the best part was when after we were introduced to the
Pope on the first night,” Vivolo added. “Almost immediately afterwards, he
invited us outside to greet the crowds that had gathered outside the
nunciature. So we followed out,” he added with a shrug. “As soon as he appeared
on the street, everyone exploded in cheers and applause. He was like a rock
Lidia said that when she first was presented the task of
cooking for the Pope, it seemed daunting. But only at first. “I have never
approached doing an event as nervous as I had been initially as I was with the
Pope’s meals, but as soon as we started doing the actual planning, a great calm
overtook both Angelo and I. Even when we were actually serving the Pope, I felt
calm and comfortable.”
Said Vivolo: “Though this is the biggest event we’ve ever
done, we’ve never been this calm before. It’s an honor and a blessing that has
been given to us. We couldn’t imagine this blessing and honor. It’s an
experience of a lifetime.”
“We are both still floating,” added Lidia.
“It’s like welcoming family,” she explained. “The Holy
Father is close to all of us. It’s something about Pope Benedict that made us
feel very calm.”
writes from New York.