Celebrate culture through food with celebrity chef Lidia Bastianich

Join Lidia Bastianich this holiday season as the renowned chef, author and food ambassador journeys across the country to host a new television special exploring how food artisans and artisanal crafts are gaining momentum in the U.S. “Lidia Celebrates America: Return of the Artisans” premieres on Friday, Dec. 20, at 8 p.m. on Arizona PBS.

In “Lidia Celebrates America: Return of the Artisans,” Lidia travels to Tennessee, California, Colorado, Michigan, Wisconsin and New Jersey to meet with American makers who are mastering the art of meat curing, coopering, coppersmithing, jam-making, cider-making and more—and finds out what inspires and fuels them.

The American work and education landscapes are evolving, and artisans are gaining in cultural relevance. With a renewed focus on vocational training and working apprentices, artisans and the trades are making a comeback here in the United States. The one-hour special looks at how this new generation of craftspeople is training today. From vocational high schools to apprenticeships to incubator programs, Lidia observes firsthand how young people are looking to artisanal crafts and small business as a fulfilling way to earn their livelihoods, and how many young craftsmen are bringing their skills back to their own communities.

All of the stories in “The Return of the Artisans” focus on artisans and craftspeople in the food and food-related industries. The first stop for Lidia is Madisonville, Tennessee, where she catches up with Allan Benton, of Benton’s Smoky Mountain Country Hams, who has spent 45 years mastering the art of curing meat and making traditional country ham, slow-smoked bacon and sausage using century-old techniques rather than modern technology—customs that spring from his Appalachian upbringing.

Next, Lidia goes to the Napa Valley to look at the ancient art of coopering, practiced today by only a few dozen masters around the world. Ramiro Herrera of Caldwell Vineyard is one of them. He shows Lidia how he assembles American oak into barrels by hand, and also demonstrates the complex art of toasting a barrel—a process which is as integral to wine-making as the grapes, since the level of roast in a barrel determines the flavors imparted to the wine.

In Denver, Colorado, Lidia pays a visit to the Comal Heritage Food Incubator, where budding chefs can take their family recipes and elevate them for public consumption through a restaurant and catering business. The incubator offers a diverse menu—from Mexican to Middle Eastern—and has become a Denver hotspot. It’s also a training program for people passionate about food, where trainees work in both the kitchen and the front of house to learn cooking techniques as well as business acumen.

From there, Lidia heads up to the northern fruit lands, on the banks of Lake Michigan, where small businesses like American Spoon, in Petoskey, Minn., offer a rigorous training program to teach workers how to produce the finest fruit preserves while remaining committed to using centuries-old cooking techniques.

If it’s copper cookware you need, just ask Sara Dahmen at House Copper in Grafton Village, Wisconsin.  Lidia connects with Sara, one of the only female coppersmiths in the world, to see where she and the master tinsmith create cooking utensils and pots using tools from the 1700s and 1800s.

“Lidia Celebrates America: Return of the Artisans” culminates with Lidia hosting a special celebration meal to give back to the artisans who’ve generously opened their lives to her. The dinner is held at Ironbound Farm in New Jersey, home of Ironbound Hard Cider, which creates meaningful, skilled jobs for the chronically underemployed by training them to be farmers and educators, and which works to cultivate an interconnected community of local food artisans at the farm.

Lidia’s menu includes some of her own dishes and highlights the artisanal creations inspired by her travels and experiences across the country, including foraged mushrooms, green beans with mint pesto, polenta, roasted beet salad, short ribs and country ham, and fruit tart made from preserves.

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