LIDIA CELEBRATES AMERICA: Return Of The Artisans
Airs Friday, Dec. 20, 2019 at 9 p.m. on KPBS 2
In LIDIA CELEBRATES AMERICA “The Return Of The Artisans,” a new one-hour special, Lidia Bastianich 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 Return Of The Artisans" 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.
“In 'The Return of the Artisans,' we take viewers on an intimate journey to see traditions that have been kept alive for hundreds of years, skills passed down from generations with pride, passion and love—now being passed on to new apprentices,” says Bastianich, who grew up amid Italian food artisans as a revered part of the culture. “The beauty of these apprenticeships is not just the quality goods from using time-honored, hand-crafted methods, but the viable employment opportunities and a sense of community and belonging for the craftspeople who master the skills.”
All of the stories in the program focus on artisans and craftspeople in the food and food-related industries:
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.
Allan is committed to passing on his knowledge and has been mentoring young people in the fine art of dry-curing, which is sought after by chefs around the country.
Lidia then heads to Knoxville, Tennessee to sample the end results in some of the local eateries.
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 began his apprenticeship as a teen and devoted four years of intensive training. Now he heads production and trains others.
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.
The nose knows—or it must to ply this trade, since it’s essential to becoming a master. Lidia puts hers to the test to see what aromas she can detect.
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 and how to deal with customers in order to open their own small businesses.
The locally grown program provides an incredible model that can be duplicated in other rural and urban areas around the country. Because workers are paid for their work as they train, it breaks the cycle of foregoing income to pursue education.
From there, Lidia heads up to the northern fruit lands, on the banks of Lake Michigan, where small businesses like American Spoon, in Petoskey, Michigan, offer a rigorous training program to teach workers how to produce the finest fruit preserves while remaining committed to using centuries-old cooking techniques.
Founded by Chef Larry Forgione and foraging expert Justin Rashid, it resembles “Willie Wonka’s” jam line—using small copper kettles and wooden paddles and locally sourced ingredients from over 100 area family farms in the woodlands of northern Michigan.
If it’s copper cookware you need, just ask Sara Dahmen at House Copper in Grafton Village, Wisconsin. She created her own apprenticeship opportunity by reaching out to a local craftsman preserving a dying art—creating tin, iron and copper cookware using centuries old techniques.
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 "The 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 products and dishes 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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This episode will be available to stream on demand for a limited time after broadcast.
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A production of WGBH Boston and Tavola Productions. Lidia Bastianich is host. Executive Producers are Lidia Bastianich and Laurie Donnelly.