What’s cookin’ on L’ora Italiana?
Mary Ann Esposito, Lidia Bastianich will be special guests on the March shows
STEUBENVILLE — “L’Ora Italiana” — “The Italian Hour” — is cooking up something special.
The Italian American Cultural Club’s weekly Italian-American radio show will welcome as its March program guests “the queens of the Italian-American culinary scene” in Mary Ann Esposito and Lidia Bastianich.
Co-hosts Frankie DiCarlantonio and Lucia Scaffidi plan to announce that to listeners on Sunday’s show, which airs from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. on River Talk Radio 94.9 FM, 100.9 FM and 1430 AM as well as online at 1063theriver.com.
Esposito, host of “Ciao Italia with Mary Ann Esposito,” the longest-running television cooking program in America, will be part of the March 7 and March 14 local programs. Bastianich, an Emmy award-winning public television host, a best‐selling cookbook author, a successful restaurateur and owner of a flourishing food and entertainment business, will be featured on the March 21 and March 28 installments.
“We’re really excited that we’re going to kind of have the queens of the Italian-American culinary scene join us,” DiCarlantonio said earlier this week during an interview with Scaffidi, his aunt.
“We’re excited to have a straight month of two great individuals. They both have rich histories and do a lot of different things. We want to talk to them about how they got started and how they got to where they are today. They’re at the top of being an Italian-American role model,” Scaffidi said.
The two shared biographies provided about their guests.
In addition to being the creator and host of the nationally televised PBS series, “Ciao Italia with Mary Ann Esposito,” Esposito is the author of 13 cookbooks, including her most recent, “Ciao Italia: My Lifelong Food Adventures in Italy.”
The series began in 1989, making it America’s longest running television cooking series.
Through “Ciao Italia” and appearances on other programs, including “The Today Show,” the Food Network, Discovery Channel, Fox, RAI International, the Victory Garden and many others, Esposito has been able to share traditional Italian cooking, history and culture with audiences around the world. She also has worked beside world-renowned chefs such as Julia Child and Jacques Pepin.
In addition, the Mary Ann Esposito Foundation was created to help culinary students achieve their goals. Most recently, the foundation announced the creation of the Rebecca Alssid Award, named for the founder of the culinary arts program at Boston University. This annual award is presented to qualifying students who are part of the gastronomy and culinary arts program.
Esposito teaches an online credit course at Boston University’s Metropolitan Campus and has been part of the Seminar in the Arts program for close to 30 years.
Numerous organizations have recognized Esposito for her efforts to preserve the traditions surrounding Italian regional food and culture. She received the Order of the Star of Italy Cavaliere Award from the president of the Italian Republic as well as the Premio Artusi Award for her work in promoting Italian food. The Italian Trade Commission further distinguished her by naming Esposito a Hall of Fame honoree. The Order Sons of Italy in America honored Esposito with a Lifetime Achievement Award in the Culinary and Cultural Arts of Italy Award.
She holds a master’s degree from the University of New Hampshire. Johnson and Wales University presented her with its Distinguished Author Award, and St. Anselm College conferred an honorary doctorate for Esposito’s dedication to teaching and preserving authentic Italian cuisine.
Biography information provided by Tavola Productions staff notes Bastianich has accomplished what she has “by marrying her two passions in life — her family and food — to create multiple culinary endeavors alongside her two children, Joseph and Tanya.”
She has published 13 cookbooks, co-authored with her daughter Tanya, and companion books to her Emmy-winning television series “Lidia’s Kitchen,” “Lidia’s Italy in America” and “Lidia’s Italy.” She also published her memoir, “My American Dream: A Life of Love, Family, and Food,” as well as her cookbook, “Felidia,” released on Oct. 29, 2019.
Bastianich is a celebrated chef and restaurateur and a partner in Eataly NYC, Chicago, Boston, Los Angeles, Dallas, Las Vegas, Toronto and Sao Paolo, Brazil. Together with Tanya and son-in-law Corrado, she also has developed a line of artisanal pastas and all-natural sauces, called Lidia’s.
She is a member of Les Dames D’Escoffier and founding member of Women Chefs and Restaurateurs, two nonprofit organizations of women leaders in the food and hospitality industries. She also is a champion for the United Nations Association of the United States of America’s Adopt-A-Future program, in support of refugee education.
Her numerous awards and accolades include seven James Beard Awards (Outstanding Chef, Television Food Show, Best Chefs in America, Who’s Who of Food & Beverage in America, Specials 2016, Special 2017 and 2018) and two Emmy Awards for Outstanding Culinary Host (2013 and 2018).
The interviews will be recorded, according to DiCarlantonio. “They are joining us at different times other than our shows. Those dates already are established. They are both happening in the next 10 days actually,” he had said during Monday’s interview.
DiCarlantonio and Scaffidi have been co-hosts of the radio show since Dec. 1, 2019.
“It has had a long history,” he said of the program that originally was called “The Neapolitan Serenade” and hosted by Camillio DeLucia on Sunday mornings on WSTV AM. When Camillio retired in 1973, Alphonse “Al” Ruggieri, who had worked with Camillio on the show for 12 years, became its host. Ruggieri died on March 29, 2020.
“It is an every Sunday show that can be heard from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m., and it’s on three different radio stations — on 94.9 FM — 100.9 FM and 1340 AM,” DiCarlantonio explained, noting the show also can be listened to online at 106.3 the River.com. And the March interviews of the special guests, he pointed out, can be listened to on the Facebook page of the Italian American Cultural Club, of which DiCarlantonio is president.
New co-hosts meant a new name for the show as well.
“We wanted something more indicative of an Italian hour so we literally translated it to ‘L’ora Italiana,'” explained DiCarlantonio.
“The Italian Hour” is a combination of live and recorded material.
“If we have guests with us, we work around their schedule to record some of it. Parts of it are live on Sunday so it just depends on the mix of the show,” he said.
Each show normally spotlights a particular artist.
“We feature one artist of Italian music per week, and we play usually six to 10 songs of theirs each week, and mix in a variety of newer songs with oldies but goodies,” he said.
“Each song has a special dedication to somebody out there.”
Scaffidi, who handles that, said listeners contact her with requests to acknowledge birthdays, anniversaries, engagements, marriages, births and deaths with tributes in honor of or in memory of someone.
“Usually people send a message and they tell me specific what they want — believe me,” Scaffidi said with a laugh.
Guests are not strangers on the show, according to the co-hosts, who are receptive to expanding and experimenting with the program to honor the established base and welcome new listeners.
The Feb. 21 show, for example, welcomed Julia Streisfeld, the director of scholarships from the National Italian American Foundation.
“She was talking about the scholarship program from the national (foundation),” explained Scaffidi, who noted the local club has been faithful to award scholarships for about the past 10 years. “Last year we gave out five from our club and three from the generosity of donors. This year we anticipate having eight, potentially even nine.”
DiCarlantonio said Viviana Altierii of Pittsurgh has been another guest.
“She is a huge influence in the Italian-American market in Pittsburgh and she does language classes and cooking classes,” he said of the chief creative officer at La Dolce Vita Boutique and executive director/CEO at Istituto Mondo Italiano — Centro di cultura italiana, according to her Facebook page.
“She talks about what she does in Pittsburgh to keep the culture alive, which is a lot,” he said. “She has been on our show a lot.”
And then there’s special guest Deana Martin, daughter of Steubenville’s own Dean Martin, who was on the program, too.
“She was talking about growing up with Dean Martin as her father,” he said.
DiCarlantonio explained how the idea for the special March guests originated.
In October, DiCarlantonio was watching the National Italian American Foundation virtual gala and saw Esposito cooking a dish in honor of Dr. Anthony Fauci.
“Lidia had also contributed some to the gala, and I thought just how cool these two ladies are. Mary Ann has the longest running cooking show in America, and it’s an Italian cooking show. It just shows how appreciated the Italian culture is. She’s been doing this since 1989 and has no plans to stop that I know of, so I just thought how cool it would be to be able to interview her, and everybody knows her,” he said.
“I know when I walk into my grandmother’s house, I always see Mary Ann on (TV) or Lidia on, I see all of these Italian Americans and Italians that she watches, so we’ve all kind of grown up around them so I thought how cool it would be to have someone of her magnitude join us, and a lot of people know Lidia from her restaurants and from her shows, and most recently she did one called ‘Lidia Celebrates America: A Salute to First Responders,’ and she was virtually cooking with a lot of the first responders on the front lines of COVID, so I just thought how cool it would be to do that (have them as guests),” he continued.
“One thing I love about Italian Americans — we’re here to support each other, and we’re here to support the culture that we’re involved with,” DiCarlantonio said, noting Esposito and Bastianich “without hesitation found time on their schedules to join us. They just love the culture so much they want to spread it.”
“L’Ora Italiana” enjoys a broad audience, listeners close to home and as far away as Virginia and Italy.
“We have people who have left Steubenville and listen,” DiCarlantonio said. “Our show sort of has a unique history. People kind of assimilated to this and the Italian culture back in the days when people were first coming from Italy,” he said. “A lot of individuals who are now grandparents themselves grew up listening to this show. That’s what you did every Sunday from 10 to 11 or whatever hour it was on. You listened as a family. You planned your day around it. So as people may have moved out of the area, they continued that tradition, and one thing about us, we have a social media presence, so we’re able to kind of remind people that we’re there a little bit more than our predecessors, so we actually have a far reach outside the Ohio Valley,” he added.
Scaffidi said the show is listened to by residents of the village where she is from — Prata Sannita in the region of Caserta.
They hear it on Sundays at 4 p.m. because of the time difference and often in the piazza town square when the weather is nice.
The radio show has been Scaffidi’s listening tradition for more than 50 years.
“This has been a part of my life since I came here from Italy, which was 1968,” she said. “My husband, he used to have the short wave radio and you used to listen to the soccer games because all the people that came from Italy, they didn’t know anything about football so they used to come over to my house and listen to the soccer game. And then after they finished, he went on the radio and gave all the results of all the games so this went on for years and years.”
Of the show’s present-day influence, Scaffidi cited how a youth in Cleveland with local connections is taking classes in Italian and being reinforced in that educational pursuit through the Sunday broadcasts.
“This little boy said I am listening to your station every Sunday because now I’m beginning to understand the songs and the program, and he said next time I come to Steubenville, I want to meet you and Frankie,” she said.
DiCarlantonio said some weeks on the show, he and Scaffidi fly solo, on their own, minus guests.
“We just sort of talk about some Italian history or Italian American history. We talk about the differences in holidays in Italy and the United States,” he said. That includes Father’s Day. On March 19 in Italy, for example, people celebrate San Giuseppe (St. Joseph), who was the Virgin Mary’s spouse.
The show provides an opportunity to promote club activities and events, including Campo Italiano, an annual tradition for the IACC. It is usually held in June and attracts as many as 100 or more youth who come to learn about the language, culture, songs and traditions. Club members are keeping their fingers crossed that some semblance of it can be held this year, depending on pandemic guidelines and restrictions in place. It had to be canceled last year.
“It’s important to promote the culture,” Scaffidi said.
And the co-hosts emphasized that it’s crucial for the show to exist, flourish and continue.
“For me it’s important for my culture and to make sure the younger generations follow us,” Scaffidi said. “It’s important this tradition goes on,” she added.
“This is something that people have to know about, especially the younger generation because little by little, it’s going to fade away, everything. We don’t want this, Frankie,” she said, gesturing to her nephew.
“We’ve got to keep it alive.”