Secrets Why Giada De Laurentiis Became America’s Favorite Italian Chef
Anybody who likes watching a chef prepare a delicious meal on TV is probably familiar with Giada De Laurentiis. This Food Network star has won tons of fans with her authentic Italian food and warm personality. But those aren’t the only reasons why she’s become America’s favorite Italian chef.
Want to learn her secrets? Read on to discover how De Laurentiis achieved her status both as a Food Network star and beloved celebrity chef whom millions of Americans love to watch.
1. Giada talks the talk, but makes it easy to understand
Celebrity chef Mario Batali characterizes De Laurentiis as a great example of the kind of chef viewers love to watch, “even if they have no ambition to ever cook what they see on the screen.” He explains, “When I was on the Food Network, we wore chef coats because ‘we were chefs.’ Now there’s not a chef coat on the network because they realized that they don’t want chefs. They want people that resemble someone that’s gonna be in your house.” Batali thinks De Laurentiis and chefs like her appeal to viewers because they speak the language of a chef but make cooking look easy.
2. She’s serious about correct pronunciation when speaking Italian
Speaking of De Laurentiis talking the talk, she’s known for her precise pronunciations of Italian terms. Some viewers have made fun of her pronunciations. And even TV personality Jimmy Fallon has made fun of how De Laurentiis overenunciates terms, such as spaghetti.
But plenty of people love listening to De Laurentiis pronounce Italian words on her show. TV host Conan O’Brien seems to number among those fans. Many enjoy learning new Italian terms from De Laurentiis. And some have noted the criticism of the chef’s pronunciations seems pretty sexist.
3. Giada is actually from Italy
Many people can prepare Italian food. But Food Network viewers love De Laurentiis in part because she’s actually from Italy. She was born in 1970 in Rome. Her parents were Veronica De Laurentiis and Alex de Benedetti. Plus, her maternal grandfather was esteemed film producer Dino De Laurentiis. And her grandmother was popular film star Silvana Mangano.
After her parents divorced, Giada De Laurentiis took her mother’s last name and moved with her mom to Southern California. De Laurentiis was just 7 years old at the time. She tells Parade she didn’t speak English. And she found it difficult to fit in with the other students at her school.
4. She comes from a culinary family
De Laurentiis comes from a culinary family, as PopSugar notes. Her great-grandparents owned a pasta factory in Naples before World War II. The factory was lost in the war. (But De Laurentiis visited the town where it was located, Torre Annunziata, on an episode of her show.)
In the 1980s, after he moved to the United States, Giada’s grandfather Dino de Laurentiis opened two gourmet Italian shops, one in Los Angeles and the other in New York. Giada De Laurentiis spent a lot of time in the kitchen. She tells Time, “It was a gourmet grocery store that also had a kitchen and served food. I loved being in the kitchen, watching the customers come in and talk about what they liked and didn’t like.”
5. Her family wanted her to work in the movie business
Like many of us, De Laurentiis comes from a family that had some strong opinions about the path she should follow. De Laurentiis tells Time the summer before she went to culinary school, her family wanted her to take a job on a movie. That way, she could make sure she made the right decision. “I think they hoped I would change my mind about culinary school,” she explains. “They felt that being a woman, I didn’t know what I wanted. They thought that cooking professionally was for men, not women.”
She tried multiple jobs on the set of one of her grandfather’s movies. But as she explains, “Nothing clicked for me. I hated it. Nothing about it made me want to get up and work — except for the catering truck.”
6. Giada decided to follow in the footsteps of her aunt Raffy
Many people with big dreams have realized their goals don’t exactly square with what their families expected of them. De Laurentiis realized the same thing but looked to one remarkable woman in her family for inspiration: her aunt Raffy.
De Laurentiis tells First We Feast, “I grew up in a family where the boys had to have drive to do something big, to keep up with my grandfather and what he built, but for women it was different. There weren’t really a lot of expectations for me. It was just have fun, do whatever you want, get married, and have kids.”
She tells Parade she looked up to her aunt Raffy, a Hollywood producer, who made a career for herself despite family expectations. De Laurentiis explains, “I thought, ‘That’s the kind of woman I want to be.'”
7. She studied at one of the most notable culinary schools
De Laurentiis went to Paris to study at Le Cordon Bleu. At the time, she wanted to become a pastry chef. She tells Time she hated the first two months because it was the first time she’d been away from her family. “It was rough, and school was rough. And the chefs were so hard on us,” she explains.
According to Parade, she called her mother and begged to turn around and go home. But her mother, who regretted giving up her career, had none of it. De Laurentiis tells the magazine, “She said, ‘If you come home, we will not support you. You’re cut off.’ I hated her for it for a while because I didn’t have any money. But I stuck it out.”
8. Giada’s family connections might have helped her, but she paid her dues
After graduating from culinary school, De Laurentiis worked at several high-profile Los Angeles restaurants, including Wolfgang Puck’s Spago. She also worked as a personal chef and did some food styling for Martha Stewart Living and Food & Wine magazine.
According to the Daily Meal, her big break came when she was featured in an article in Food & Wine magazine about her grandfather, Dino De Laurentiis. Her food styling skills — as well as her picture — appeared in the magazine. When Food Network executives saw the article, they called to ask her to host a cooking show. According to The Huffington Post, De Laurentiis’s first show, Everyday Italian, premiered just a year later.
9. She wasn’t always a natural in front of the camera
Though she’s in front of the camera all the time now, De Laurentiis didn’t always find it easy. She tells Time, “When the Food Network called, they said just put yourself on tape — they didn’t care if I made a peanut butter jelly sandwich, they just needed to see how I looked on camera. It took me six months to make that tape! I was like, ‘I can’t do it, I can’t talk to a camera, I’m too shy.’ The whole reason I wanted to be a chef was because chefs never came out of the kitchen.”
The Daily Meal reports when De Laurentiis began working on her show, producer Irene Wong “gave some advice to the uncomfortable Giada on how to work through lifting heavy pots and burning things: smile.”
10. Giada got back in touch with her Italian heritage when she began her career
After a rough childhood in California, De Laurentiis had to relearn her pride in her Italian heritage. Her aunt Raffy tells Parade after a tumultuous start when De Laurentiis moved to California as a child, “she became totally American.” Raffy adds, “I had to bug her to learn Italian again when she started her career because she couldn’t cook Italian and not speak it — or speak it wrong, which is even worse.” Turns out that there’s a good reason why De Laurentiis is so meticulous about those Italian pronunciations.
11. Her show, Everyday Italian, was one of the first of its kind
Even avid fans of cooking shows might find it tough to think back to how different food TV was in 2003, when Everyday Italian first aired. But as the Food Network notes, De Laurentiis’s show was one of the first of its kind. At the time, most shows were filmed in a studio. But De Laurentiis filmed hers in a home kitchen.
She doesn’t do that anymore. And PopSugar reports Giada at Home gets shot on a set. But the chef says the Malibu, California, house where they film looks very similar to her own home.
12. Giada helped change America’s perception of Italian food
As she’s hosted her show over the years, De Laurentiis isn’t the only one who’s come a long way. First We Feast points out she joined the Food Network in 2003, “a time when, to much of America, Italian food was still red sauce and bagged mozzarella shreds.”
The blog notes, “Ingredients like prosciutto and burrata had barely made it out of the Martha Stewart East Coast elite tower, and Rachael Ray, who hit the airwaves shortly before De Laurentiis, had only just introduced a large portion of the country to the nuances of good olive oil by coining her own cutesy term for it: EVOO.”
13. Her recipes are simple, but authentic
First We Feast notes one of the reasons De Laurentiis’ recipes appeal to Food Network viewers is they’re simple to prepare but still authentic to their Italian roots. De Laurentiis tells the publication, “I like to think that’s what I do: streamline things so I can bring them down to their core essence.”
She credits her focus on simplicity to the inspiration she gathered on a trip to Italy in summer 2003, when she and her aunt Raffy — who sometimes appears on her shows — sailed the Sicilian Islands and experienced numerous simple dishes. But she does tell Redbook sometimes her grandfather thought her recipes were a little too easy — even if that’s what makes them accessible.
14. Giada still looks to her family for inspiration
Most home cooks will tell you some of their favorite dishes to prepare are the ones that have been in their family for generations — or new creations everybody in the family can enjoy together. De Laurentiis is no different.
She tells Time, “My initial inspiration is threefold. My grandfather gave me inspiration to cook and love food and flavors. My Aunt Raffie gave me creativity and the inspiration to create new things.” She adds, “My mother inspires me to find simplicity in food. Those are the three people who molded me. Now my family inspires me, traveling inspires me, my viewers and fans, the people I meet on tours.”
15. She’s a working mom
Parenting is a lot of work. And parents across the U.S. appreciate seeing celebs like De Laurentiis handle parenthood so gracefully, even while maintaining a high-profile career. Since giving birth to her daughter Jade in 2008 — and going through a divorce with longtime husband Todd Thompson in 2014 through 2015 — De Laurentiis has said motherhood has changed her.
She told Parade of Jade, “She’s probably the best thing I’ve ever done in my life, and she’s also opened my eyes up to really enjoying every day and not taking things too seriously.” De Laurentiis adds, “I didn’t think that I could do as much as I do.” That’s probably especially true now that she’s divorced and splits time with Jade. She tells People, “It gets a little trickier when you’re a single mom, which a lot of parents are.”
16. Giada was the first woman to open a restaurant on the Las Vegas strip
After giving birth to Jade, De Laurentiis opened a restaurant on the second floor of the Cromwell Hotel, in the heart of the Vegas strip. According to the Food Network, De Laurentiis was the first woman to open a restaurant on the Las Vegas strip. And Elle notes she was also the first woman to have a Las Vegas restaurant with her name on the marquee.
As for why De Laurentiis chose to open a restaurant in Las Vegas, rather than Los Angeles? Parade reports she didn’t want to feel “the pressure of being home and feeling like I needed to be at the restaurant. When I’m in Vegas, I’ve got nothing else I need to do. I come here for the day or a week and go back home.”
17. She’s serious about her health and probably doesn’t eat a lot of the food she prepares
We’d all like to eat delicious Italian food without the effects showing up on our waistlines. So it’s no surprise many Americans envy De Laurentiis’s svelte figure. Wonder how De Laurentiis stays so thin while cooking rich Italian food? According to Page Six, she doesn’t eat the food she cooks on her show. In fact, she reportedly spits out food after tasting it on camera.
De Laurentiis has said she stays thin by eating in moderation. So even when she does eat a few bites of a dish prepared on the show, she probably doesn’t eat the whole dish. She also focuses on eating healthy foods, according to her interview with People.