Giada De Laurentiis was destined for the big screen—at least that’s the way her family saw it. Her grandfather was a famous producer in Italy, and her grandmother was an actress. But the now-famous Food Network star had different plans.
“I tried my hand at a million different things, acting being one of them. I didn't like any of it. I wasn't comfortable. I was shy. I don't know. It just wasn't my thing. I loved food. I ended up doing what they wanted and trying different jobs in the movie business and on different movies and realized it's not for me. So I went out on my own and I went to college, number one, and then I went to cooking school in Paris,” Giada told Christopher Kimball in an interview on Milk Street Radio.
Get a glimpse of the chef’s family history, culinary influences and food preferences (no cauliflower rice, please!) in the excerpts below, and catch her full interview with Christopher Kimball here on Milk Street Radio.
On cooking Italian food professionally
I didn't want to do Italian food. I wanted to do French food. I went to Paris and I wanted to be an unbelievable pastry chef who could create sculptures out of sugar work, which is what I did a lot of in Paris... I just didn't feel like tossing pasta. I was like no, that's below me. What the heck? So that took a lot of time for me to sort of deal with my own demons.
In Naples, yes, they do have a lot of bread in [their recipes]. They do. Why? Because bread is cheap. And most people had leftover bread. Meat is super expensive, right? They couldn't afford it. So, they take a little bit of meat and they doctor it up and add a lot of other stuff to it to flavor, to really give it some heft. But when they come to the States, they're like, “No, I now make a lot of money.” Right? “So, I'm going to have giant meatballs, and I'm going to use very little bread because I can afford all the meat. That's how successful I am.”
On the regionality of Italian cuisine
I think still to this day, a lot of Americans don't realize that Italian food—in many countries this happens but—it's very, very regional, the way they make things. So, lasagna in the South is completely different than a lasagna in the North...It’s just different traditions based on hundreds of years of people coming in and putting their sort of touch on them. And they really use local ingredients. So why does the South use more olive oil and the North use butter? Because the North has more cows, the South doesn't have a lot of cows. You know what I mean? They have olive trees and olive groves.
On putting ice in her wine
I used to drink more, yes. I can't. I mean, if you ask a lot of women at my age, they will tell you that alcohol is very difficult to break down anymore. Obviously, Chris, too, our hormones are different than yours... They were like, 'You’re an Italian chef. How the hell can you put ice in your wine?' Well, first of all, I don't put it in my red wine. It's white wine that I do it with or even Prosecco. But I've learned that I have the two because otherwise I am not well, and my mother has been doing it for eons. That's where I first saw it. My mother is 71. She still has a glass of wine or two every single night. But she puts ice in it.
On cauliflower rice
Everybody says to me, “Why don't you have cauliflower rice in your in your cookbook?” Like, because I fucking hate it. I don't like cauliflower rice. Ok? Leave me alone.
On meal prep
I started batch cooking, because when you have a kid it's too hard... I cook them [brown rice and lentils] in batches. So, a few several cups worth: I cool them, put them on in a container and I put them in the fridge so that I can make a salad or a stir fry, or I can do many different things with those ingredients. So, when I'm thinking of dinner, I don't have to be like, oh man, I didn't cook the brown rice, so now I can't make my fried rice dish or my green rice or whatever.
On her “favorite meat of choice“
I like lamb and every time I put a lamb recipe in my book my publishers are like, “But really people don't like lamb.” I'm like, but I love lamb, and I'm Italian and they should eat lamb, because it's way better for them than all the beef they're consuming....I know it's never a favorite recipe in any of my books. But I would be doing a disservice to my culture and to myself if I didn't put it in there. It is my favorite meat of choice.
On her future business plans
In a perfect world, Chris, I would buy a vineyard in the South of Italy, turn it into some kind of bed and breakfast and spend half the year there. I'm trying to get back my Italian passport now in the hopes that someday I can do that. That would be the ideal way of living my life. I don't know that that will ever happen. But I will try.
Quotes have been edited for clarity.