Lidia Bastianich was a staple on 1990’s public television, with a series of cooking shows showcasing her Italian cuisine.
Bastianich was a celebrity chef in an era before celebrity chefs, with a stable of Manhattan restaurants and several shows with a strong viewership for the medium- preceding high-profile New York restaurateurs who would go on to do the same, like Mario Batali, Bobby Flay and Anthony Bourdain. But her kindly, quiet TV persona belied a nasty scene at home, says the lawyer of a woman Bastianich allegedly kept as a slave for several years.
According to a blistering account in the New York Post, Bastianich lured a woman named Maria Carmela Farina to the states with promises of a fancy job working in the kitchens and on the shows in the celebrity chef’s empire. Instead, says Farina’s lawyer, Farina became the unpaid servant to a neighbor of Bastianich under the restaurant owner’s direction, promised meager wages of $600 a week for her indentured servitude that never materialized.
Farina cared for Luigia Crespi starting when the elder woman’s health began failing at the age of 99, until Crespi’s death at the age of 105. According to the suit, Farina occasionally objected to the treatment but was cowed into silence due to her immigration status and limited English:
For an astounding six years, until Luigia’s death in December, Farina bathed, fed, and shopped for the old woman, even helping her on and off the toilet… The Bastianich clan would also assure Farina that part of her “pay” was the Visa they were working on getting her, the suit contends. Instead, Bastianich only jeopardized her immigration status by lying on papers that Farina was a chef, the suit claims.
Farina was told her “pay” was being deposited in a bank account, but the account was never provided to her. After Crespi’s death earlier this year, Farina was presented with a one-way ticket back to Venice and a promise that $10,000 of the wages owed to her would be paid, says her lawyer.
Lawyers and reps for Bastianich refused to comment on the $5 million suit.