Lawsuits over wage violations and sexual harassment are fairly commonplace in the restaurant industry. But the $5 million lawsuit filed in court yesterday against Lidia Bastianich is bizarre — and troubling — enough to arouse even the most jaded observers from their torpor.
Bastianich is being sued by Maria Carmela Farina, an Italian cook who alleges that the TV chef, cookbook author, and restaurateur tricked her into indentured servitude. Farina alleges that in 2005, Bastianich promised her a $600-a-week job overseeing her kitchens and preparing recipes for her show. Instead, Farina alleges that she arrived in the U.S. only to be made into a round-the-clock caretaker for a 99-year-old family friend. One of Farina’s lawyers, Paul Catsandonis, told the New York Daily News that his client was “completely hoodwinked by Lidia. … Lidia thought she was running a Roman empire and that this woman was one of her slaves.”
The suit contends that Farina cared for the woman until she died at the age of 105, and during that time she largely went unpaid, had no vacation time, and wasn’t allowed to see her kids. Following her charge’s death last December, Farina was allegedly visited by Bastianich’s daughter, who presented her with a one-way ticket back to Italy and told her she’d receive $10,000 after she arrived.
Bastianich is due to return to public television on September 10 with a new installment of her travel and cooking show Lidia’s Italy in America. The show’s website features an “Ask Lidia!” section. We’re guessing the Farina’s lawsuit will inspire more troubling questions than “How can I make my tomato sauce not taste metallic?” and “Do you salt or put oil in your pasta water?”