The View from My Kitchen

Benvenuti! I hope you enjoy il panorama dalla mia cucina Italiana -- "the view from my Italian kitchen,"-- where I indulge my passion for Italian food and cooking. From here, I share some thoughts and ideas on food, as well as recipes and restaurant reviews, notes on travel, and a few garnishes from a lifetime in the entertainment industry.

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Grazie mille!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

At Last! A Conversation With Giada De Laurentiis

I guess it's no secret that I like and admire Giada De Laurentiis. I have previously written a couple of pieces defending her from jealous and/or uninformed detractors, scribblings which several thousand of you have read, thankyewverymuch. In those missives I openly admit that my opinions are based solely upon television viewing, for I had never had the pleasure of meeting Giada in person. Until recently. And the results of that meeting have placed me even more firmly in her corner. Bad-mouthing nitwits, twits, and gits should be ashamed of their ignorance. Giada De Laurentiis is a truly nice person.

My only critique of my first “Giada Experience” is that, unlike Bobby Flay and other culinary celebs I've hooked up with, Giada's retinue is more reflective of her Hollywood roots. She has “handlers” and “people” and agents who form barriers and hold up hoops through which one must jump in order to get close to their “star.” Now, at the risk of sounding conceited, folks, this was not my first rodeo. Over a career spanning nearly forty years in the entertainment business, I have developed calluses on my elbows from rubbing them with “stars.” I have shared stages and backstages with celebrities of every stripe and agents, handlers and “people” just don't impress me. And they seldom deter me, either.

Thanks to some quality interference running from PR maven extraordinaire Jill Collins, I finally got some face time with my personal culinary goddess between demo shows at the recent Metropolitan Cooking and Entertaining Show in Atlanta. And, man, was it worth the effort.

First, a few words about Giada's live demo show. Warm. Fun. Engaging. Charming. Open. Enjoyable. Much like the woman herself. No pun intended, but people were eating out of her hand the minute she stepped onto the stage. She fielded questions from the audience, cooked side-by-side with eager volunteers, and presented delicious food in a manner that said, “C'mon. You can do this, too.” Kind of like a live, interactive version of “Everyday Italian.”

Back in the “green room,” it was pretty obvious that Giada was a little tired. Even so, she was unfailingly warm and gracious as we were introduced. Seated in a large overstuffed chair, she seemed even more diminutive than she does on TV. But that dazzling smile – the one that so many goofs criticize as “fake” – was, indeed, very real and immediately lent an open and friendly aura to the conversation that followed. Because the room's seating arrangement wasn't exactly optimal for small recording devices, Giada obligingly allowed me to sit literally at her feet as we chatted. And never once did I drool on her shoes.

RJ: Let me start by clarifying two things: First of all, your name is “Giada.”

GDL: Yes....

RJ: It has two syllables: “jah-dah.” It's not “gee-ah-dah.”

GDL: It's not. It's actually “jyah-dah.”

RJ: Means “jade.”

GDL: Correct, it does. But, you know, I answer to almost anything. So a lot of people who can't pronounce my name, I just tell them to call me “G.”

RJ: And the other thing to clarify is the fact that, yes, you really are a cook. You really are a chef. You do have formal training, you do have experience. I know you don't need any defense from people like me, but I have actually written some things defending you against the people who have always said, “Oh, she's just a pretty face.”

GDL: (sighs) I know.

RJ: But, no, that's not true. You really do have the background to justify your position in the culinary world, correct?

GDL: I do. I think that … I think it's going to be an ongoing battle forever. But that's okay. I think that the proof is in the pudding, and I truly believe that if I didn't have the culinary chops and I didn't write recipes that worked and that people loved, I guess I wouldn't be here almost ten years later. And you know, I think that people will talk about you regardless, and it doesn't matter whether you're doing great or you're not doing great, up or down, there's always going to be haters and there's always going to be people who like you and you just can't please everybody. My food isn't for everyone. It just isn't. It's my food, the way I like it, and some people will like it and some people won't and that's okay.

RJ: Well, now, you know, I talked to some people in line here before...this morning...for your book signing, and one of the questions I was asking them is, “Why are you such a fan of Giada's? Why do you like Giada De Laurentiis?” And I got the same answer....

GDL: They're all like, “Wait! That's who I'm here to see? It's not Paula Deen? This is the wrong day!” Just teasing.

RJ: ... but I got the same answer from a lot of them, and that was, “because Giada's food is so approachable. It's so easy. You know, I watch Giada on TV and I think, 'I could cook like that.'” Is that kind of where you wanted to go when you started out with “Everyday Italian” and through the progression of shows and things you've done since then? To make your food and your cooking accessible to people?

GDL: I think when I started “Everyday Italian” my goal was to allow people to be able to make really good, easy Italian food at home. The way my mom did. And I think that most people believed that in order to get great Italian food you had to go to an Italian restaurant. You couldn't possibly recreate those dishes at home. And I wanted to demystify that. My mom made great Italian food, very simple. You know, there were four kids to feed and I felt like, wait a second...I don't think you guys realize that great Italian food is actually very simple and that if you go to an Italian's house in Italy, you will not find the same food that you find in restaurants that's all gussied up. Italian food is not gussied up. And that's truly what my ultimate goal was. And I like to eat simple, good, clean food. You know, I'm not saying I'm a low-fat cook or a gluten-free cook or any of those things, but I like simple, good food. Just like many of my counterparts on Food Network do. Everybody has they're own spin on the food. This is my spin on my Italian food and all I ever wanted was for people to see it and to think, “I can do that, and I think my family's going to love it. And I can do it pretty easily and pretty quickly. And it's going to turn out every time and I'm going to wow my friends and family without spending tons and tons of time in the kitchen.” And I'm hoping that, ultimately, that has always been my goal and that is what I … you know, every time I write a recipe, that is what I'm thinking about.

RJ: There's your show and a lot of other shows that pioneered on the Food Network that we call the “dump and stir” shows, but it seems more now – and without biting the hand that feeds you too much – it seems more like we're going to shows about food as opposed to shows where you create food. Do you see that as a trend or do you think there's a place for both?

GDL: I definitely think there's a place for both. I think that's also why Food Network started the Cooking Channel, because there were a large group of people who really wanted to go back to the traditional just straight cooking show. They're really looking to learn and I think that Food MTV did. They started out with music videos but then they went to reality shows and you saw very few music videos, and so everybody sort of after awhile drifts apart from their main core audience. And so to go back to the core, they started Cooking Channel. And I think that my show, “Giada at Home,” at this point is more of a lifestyle show. Yes, there's recipes and cooking and I do teach you how to cook, but I also teach you how to live a certain type of lifestyle. Entertaining tips, etc, etc. And “Everyday Italian,” which is now on the Cooking Channel, is straight cooking demo, and so I do believe that there is a place for both things. People are looking for both. And there are some people that aren't looking for both and there's a place to find either one. So it's just amazing how it has exploded. Look at you, doing a job that you probably didn't think you could do ten years ago or didn't think there was a niche for it …

RJ: True.

GDL: and now you do. Now there is.

RJ: Final thought: where do you think food is going? What do you see the direction...I ask everybody this. I asked Bobby Flay last year – it's my stock question. But what direction do you see food taking in the next few years? It's gone from cooking everything out of a box and a can, now we have more emphasis on fresh ingredients and things like that. So where do you see the trend?

GDL: I think people want healthier food. They want healthier, clean food and they want to know what's in their food. And I think people are starting to get away from buying canned and boxed items and realizing that it's really not good for you in the long term and not good for our children, and they're starting to...ah...look at...there's farmers markets all over this country. Five years ago you couldn't find that. Maybe you found it once a week in maybe a big city. Now you find them everywhere. People are looking for fresh, simple ingredients. People want to eat well, but they want creative ways to do that. So I really see a shift changing. I think people are getting away from fast food. I think they are getting away from processed food and boxed food. I think people are really spending time learning to actually cook food from scratch. And gardening. I think a lot of people are starting to plant little gardens in their backyard...

RJ: Again.

GDL: Again. It's so cyclical, you know what I mean?

RJ: Yeah, had one when I was a kid.

GDL: Yeah, but then we got away from it. Because of convenience. And because we wanted things quickly. Now we realize that that convenience is actually killing us and killing our children. So we're going to go back to what our parents did. And maybe spend a little more time understanding what we're putting in our bodies. You know, I think we spend a lot of money on a lot of superficial exterior things and we're not taking care of this vessel that has to carry us through a very long lifetime. And every single thing that you put in your mouth has a payoff. You will pay, one way or the other, for every single thing. And we should treat our bodies like a temple and only put the best stuff in it. That's where I think we're going. I think we're starting to realize that.

RJ: You could write for my blog.

GDL: I think it's wonderful! I do! I'm so proud that Americans are so interested in food. When I moved here with my family thirty-some years ago, it wasn't like this. TV dinners were the rage. That's what everybody ate.

RJ: There's been a sea change and I think you're part of it. People like you and your colleagues at the Food Network. I think...

GDL: I think Food Network has had a big impact. It's wonderful that they've embraced it. I mean, they could have chosen not to. And they did. And after 9-11 people are hungry for tradition and culture and love and connection. I mean, that's what food does for people. It connects people. And that's what they want. They want some kind of connection with somebody and I think that Food Network does a great job of giving them that in many different forms.

RJ: I thank you for your time. I know you're busy and I appreciate it.

GDL: Thank you.

RJ: Giada De Laurentiis, grazie mille!

GDL: Grazie ti!

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