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Lidia Bastianich Built A Culinary Empire On A Bed Of Pasta

Courtesy of Lidia Bastianich
Lidia Bastianich is an Emmy award-winning public television host, a best‐selling cookbook author, restaurateur and owner of a flourishing food and entertainment business.";

On today’s program: Celebrity chef Lidia Bastianich talks about her culinary empire and bringing people together with food; a workspace and art gallery serves as a showcase for up-and-coming artists; CMU shares how AI could be used to assist surgeons in planning cardiac operations; and a new tax shelter creates new investment in Pittsburgh, but may also speed up gentrification.

Lidia’s legacy
(00:00 - 16:26)

Bestselling author, Emmy award-winner and restaurateur Lidia Bastianich wants people to embrace what she calls “food diplomacy.” As she sees it, food is the common denominator and direct line of communication between people. 

Bastianich has been using food as a tool to communicate since she was a child living in Istria, which transferred from Italian to Communist Yugoslavian rule shortly after she was born. Her family clung to its Italian identity while living as refugees in Trieste, Italy, before relocating to the United States in 1958. Bastianich says food and a bit of luck led to the cavalcade of opportunities that included television programs, book deals and a restaurant empire. 

The chef expanded her namesake restaurant when she brought it to the Strip District 18 years ago – long before Pittsburgh's food scene blossomed. The restaurant, famous for its pasta dishes, chicken parmigiana and more traditional Italian-fare like tripe, serves as a conduit for the chef, "for my Italian [culture] – the birth country – and my adoptive country, America,” she says. 

Credit Jake Savitz / 90.5 WESA
90.5 WESA
The Hill Community Development Corporation hosted an Opportunity Zones forum on Friday, May 10. Portions of the Hill District carry the federal designation.

Penn Avenue storefront provides space for young artists 
(17:51 – 21:39)

BOOM Concepts is an exhibition and studio space along the Penn Ave Arts Corridor. It hosts "Jenesis Magazine" and Magic Organs collective, but also serves as a showcase for up-and-coming artists. 90.5 WESA’s Elaine Effort spoke with co-founder J. Thomas Agnew about his work giving young artists the tools to promote their work. He spoke previously to The Confluence. Hear that full conversation here.

Can robots that help with heart surgery be considered "unremarkable?"
(21:41 – 31:46)

Carnegie Mellon University hopes so. John Zimmerman, a professor of artificial intelligence and human-computer interaction at CMU, is part of a team at the Human-Computer Interaction Institute developing AI that will someday feel "ubiquitous," and in the short term even assist and advise surgeons in planning certain cardiac operations. Zimmerman lays out the challenges and possible applications for the technology. 

Opportunity zones spark questions from the public
(31:48 – 38:55)

A new federal tax shelter could kickstart a wave of investment in Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania. Opportunity zones created by the 2017 Tax Cut and Jobs Act were supposed to encourage investors to put their money into places that haven't seen development for years and keep it there, but 90.5 WESA's Margaret J. Krauss reports that this isn't a traditional tax break for developers. Instead, when selling stocks, people can reinvest the money in opportunity zones rather than paying capital gains taxes. This could increase economic development, but it may also jump start gentrification.

90.5 WESA's Julia Zenkevich, Julia Maruca and Mick Stinelli contributed to this program.

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in weekdays at 9 a.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts.

Kiley Koscinski is a general assignment reporter for 90.5 WESA. She previously produced The Confluence and Morning Edition. Before coming to WESA, she worked as an assignment desk editor and producer at 1020 AM KDKA. She can be reached at
Kevin Gavin is the host of WESA's news interview program "The Confluence." He is a native Pittsburgher and served as news director for 90.5 WDUQ for 34 years. Since the sale of the radio station by Duquesne University to Pittsburgh EPM, Inc. (now Pittsburgh Community Broadcasting Corp.), he served as Executive Producer of Special News Projects prior to being named as host of "The Confluence" five years ago.
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