Everything the Food Network star has done in her life has prepared her for the role of owning her own restaurant, and now she’s finally ready.
It’s a typical week for Giada De Laurentiis. Though a resident of Los Angeles, where she lives with her husband Todd and daughter Jade and films her Food Network series Giada at Home, the gorgeous celebrity chef jet sets to her next destination. Rome? Paris? Capri? This time it’s New York City for talk-show appearances. One morning she’s whipping up a creamy dreamy casserole on TODAY. At night she’s on Watch What Happens Live answering questions about the most foul-tasting dish she’s ever had. Then, seemingly in a blink of an eye, she returns to her haven, The Cromwell Hotel in Las Vegas, to her first-ever restaurant, Giada.
Before her crazy week in Manhattan, De Laurentiis has to finalize Giada’s breakfast menu, which launched on October 12. The tastings went well, she tells me, but she’s mostly excited for people to finally try her sunrise polenta waffles, prepared savory or sweet. She explains, “It’s going to be different from what you find anywhere else. [The waffles] are made with a polenta-based batter that makes them extra crispy. So I think they’re going to be a hit!”
De Laurentiis has reason to be optimistic. Since the grand opening of Giada—which offers De Laurentiis’ true authentic Italian cuisine prepared with her California flair—reservations have been hard if not impossible to get. Giada is the first restaurant to open in The Cromwell Las Vegas, a relatively new establishment and the Strip’s first stand-alone boutique hotel. It’s also the first solo female chef-owned restaurant on the Strip. Last week, the restaurant and De Laurentiis’ team won a prestigious Silver State Culinary Award for Best New Fine Dining.
If the accolades alone don’t tempt you to book tickets to Vegas so you can savor De Laurentiis’ famous recipes, there is the added allure of the restaurant’s luxurious European feel, which is meant to evoke De Laurentiis’ home. Along with the welcoming warm color scheme, huge retractable walls expose breathtaking views of the Bellagio fountains and Caesars Palace.
By far, De Laurentiis’ proudest moment since opening Giada (which she calls “her baby”) involved her aunt. “When she tasted my arancini [fried risotto balls], she said I nailed it. Since that’s a family recipe, it’s a pretty big deal,” says De Laurentiis.
Given the importance she attaches to her aunt’s opinion, it should come as no surprise that what spurred De Laurentiis’ deep passion for food and the subsequent birth of her brand was growing up and cooking with her big Italian family.
Remembering Italian Culture
Born in Rome, De Laurentiis moved to America as a child with her successful Hollywood family. At first there were setbacks. “Since my mom and everyone else would only speak Italian to us, I had to repeat the first grade,” she explains. However, being the product of American culture and Italian traditions has helped her take classic Italian dishes and reinvent them.
When De Laurentiis was 12, she would visit her grandfather’s gourmet shop, DDL Foodshow. Her grandfather, the famous Hollywood film producer Dino De Laurentiis, played a crucial role in her development. An article in Food + Wine about the two family members encouraged the Food
Network channel to create a television show revolving around De Laurentiis’ food, style and personality (it later became Everyday Italian). Nonetheless, it wasn’t the glamour of TV that inspired De Laurentiis to become a chef so much as her grandfather’s gourmet shop. She was enamored by its colors, textures and aromas as well as her grandfather’s ability to woo customers with his food.
The first one in her family to go to college, she graduated from the University of California in Los Angeles with a degree in anthropology, and wanted to go to culinary school to become a pastry chef. She eventually became classically trained with Le Cordon Bleu Paris, the highest honor for culinary artists. Following her return to Los Angeles, she worked for the prestigious Ritz Carlton Fine Dining Room and Wolfgang Puck’s Spago in Beverly Hills, and later became a founder of GDL Foods, a catering company in L.A.
When it came to choosing Giada’s menu, De Laurentiis again was inspired by her roots. “My family and culture not only contributed to the process of the menu but, I’m pretty sure, in true Italian form, they drove the bus. Everything I do and most everything I know comes from family,” she says. “My menu is kind of like a scrapbook, as most of my fondest memories revolve around food. It’s important to hold onto your culture and who you are.”
Many classic dishes appear on Giada’s menu, from chicken cacciatore and veal chop saltimbocca Milanese style to her favorite on the lunch menu, a carbonara pizza. She also includes key indicators in her menu for gluten-free and vegan options. Ultimately, De Laurentiis aspires to go beyond the Italian stereotypes. “I think the preconceived notion is that American-Italian food is the same as authentic Italian, but they’re actually quite different,” notes De Laurentiis. “I hope I can show that Italian cuisine can actually be quite light and simple, with clean, fresh ingredients.”
The Giada Touch
There’s something infectious about De Laurentiis, the 44-year-old Emmy award winner, from her bubbly, winning personality to the way she pronounces words in her Italian accent (“spa-ghetti!”). Online bloggers and tabloid writers rarely dedicate negative press on De Laurentiis, despite her becoming a mogul within the food and pop culture world.
Her greatest quality is how each element of her illustrious brand becomes an approachable guide to the wonderful yet complicated world of Italian cuisine, while keeping in mind the health factors that might affect each person who tries her recipes (most notably in her latest best-selling book “Giada’s Feel Good Food.”) By opening her home to viewers of her shows Everyday Italian and Giada at Home, and keeping those recipes alive within her six books, we not only witness these intricate, affectionate, and positive details of De Laurentiis, but we’re inspired to embody them.
De Laurentiis is inspired by chef and mentor, Mario Batali and renowned French chef, Alain Ducasse, who taught her while she studied in Paris. When she speaks of them, it’s as if she’s speaking of royalty. It hard not to get lost in those thin, brown eyes as she explains her Parisian adventures, back to a time of unknown possibilities. De Laurentiis’ vision is quite clear when admiring Giada’s décor. When guests arrive to the restaurant, De Laurentiis wants them to feel as if they’ve been invited to her home. The most notable touches include five chandeliers in the dining room bearing the quote, “I eat a little bit of Everything, and not a lot of Anything,” a tie-in-a-bow answer to those who wonder how she stays so fit, even though she eats for a living. Posters culled from her home of her grandfather’s produced films and artwork cover the walls.
Giada in Charge
While De Laurentiis is one of a few women to own a restaurant on the Strip, it doesn’t stop her from being fully involved in each decision made within her brand and experiencing the challenges of having that responsibility. “When you have 300 employees, you have to inspire and teach them your philosophy on food because it’s different than everyone else’s.” She adds, “It’s taught me to really focus on what I need and want.”
The closest we get to watching De Laurentiis in this type of role isn’t on one of her programs, but when she cooks with the hosts of other TV shows. It’s intriguing to watch her go from one step of the recipe to another with such ease, as her counterparts struggle to keep up, awaiting her next direction. She laughs it off though. Because that’s what the De Laurentiis brand is all about. It shows what a powerful woman can do with a few ingredients and a smile.
“At this moment I would never [open a restaurant] again,” De Laurentiis mentions in our conversation in a tone that’s more serious than joking. Nonetheless, De Laurentiis never stops. One minute she’s making pumpkin muffins with a drizzled, chocolate top for friends on the East Coast, and the next she’s back in Las Vegas in Giada’s kitchen preparing lemon ricotta cookies in her black chef ’s coat. “My life moves in many different directions but I think this is a great thing. I am never ever bored.”