Emmy Award-winning celebrity chef Giada De Laurentiis has been on a 20-year marathon of nine cookbooks, countless episodes of 11 very personal shows on the Food Network including Giada at Home, restaurants, merchandise and is recognized by the International Hospitality Institute as one of the Global 100 in Hospitality, a list featuring the 100 Most Powerful People in Global Hospitality. She’s crossed the finish line and is ready for the next race.
In June, she walked away from the Food Network after an intense 20 years, having been a significant part of the basic cable channel’s international success, to return to the roots that propelled her to fame in the first place. The Italian-born chef is bringing it all under one roof with her own lifestyle and ecommerce platform, Giadzy, and kickstarting the catering business she started after college that attracted the attention of her former boss, super chef Wolfgang Puck.
“I’ve had lots of different homes for my different businesses and they’ve all been great,” De Laurentiis tells L.A. Weekly at an intimate poolside dinner at her Pacific Palisades home. “I’ve learned a lot and want to give more of the 360 Italian experience and have control over it as much as I can. That’s what I’m trying to create with Giadzy – to have the content and the products and have it all under one roof and really curate that whole experience and micro-manage it for a while. I wasn’t able to do that through all of my other endeavors. I needed to go through all that to get to this place. It’s a journey of experiences to understand what your end goal is. Giadzy is a culmination of all that experience brought into one home and innovating it with the digital world and going direct to consumer without the middleman. Food network was always my middleman.”
The new platform features Italian products like panettone, pasta, sauces, antipasti, sweets, spices and books, as well as meal kits and gift sets. The Cinema Night Box is an homage to her grandfather Dino De Laurentiis, one of Hollywood’s most famed film producers and the inspiration behind her love of food. It comes with a movie poster from one of his films including King Kong, Bitter Rice and Barbarella as well as amaretto truffles, Granisi Cookies With Manna Orange, Chocolate Cantucci from the third-generation bakers at Bonci and Guido Gobino hot chocolate. There are plenty of recipes, tips and an “Ask Me Anything” section, and for fans who will miss her shows, there are cooking demonstrations to come as well.
As for many of the Food Network’s major stars like Pioneer Woman Ree Drummond and Michael Symon, the pandemic forced chefs to pivot and film their shows at home with minimal family crews, which changed the cooking show landscape. Turns out, the public loved the more personalized, less stylized versions.
“Covid was the turning point,” she says. “It changed a lot of things for a lot of people, but for me it completely shifted my perspective and asked myself, what do I actually need to create content? Not very much. I went back to doing my own thing all the time – shopping for the food and prepping everything myself, setting up my demos and the recipes. I basically did it all myself and realized, oh man, I can do so much more if I can just focus my time on this one thing. That’s when I realized I can do all this on Giadzy. I don’t need to do it for the Food Network the way I was doing it anymore. I wouldn’t have realized it, if i hadn’t been put in the position of shooting at home with a phone. It was a lot easier than I thought it was going to be. I enjoyed it so much more and it was so personal. I could never get that personal on a set. I think Covid also gave us the permission to say, it’s OK, and people saying, we’ll accept it this way. It doesn’t have to be so perfect, and we really want to be more intimate and connect on a different level. Without Covid, I don’t think I would have gotten here so quickly.”
But getting here was at times a bumpy transition and her life wasn’t always charmed. She came to Los Angeles from Rome with her family at age 8.
“Coming to the states was rough,” De Laurentiis says. “In those days, it was rough for most immigrants no matter what. Kids can be cruel at times if you don’t fit into whatever they believe you should either look like or you should eat or how you should speak. I didn’t fit any of those characteristics. My parents were fierce about keeping our Italian culture and language intact. Family was above everything else. My parents were like, there’s four of you and you have all these cousins, why do you need all these friends? You can have fun at home!”
“I was embarrassed to have people over because my parents would just speak in Italian and make Italian meals, which was not what my friends would eat,” she says.” I’d get ridiculed at school or on the bus to school for my short hair, because my mother insisted on cutting my hair short so I would have golden locks when I was older. She insisted on nutella sandwiches and mortadella and leftover pasta. She would put it in little containers for my lunch. It was awkward. Kids teased me, so I would eat by myself a lot of the time. But then at times, when she made me a Toblerone sandwich, I could trade with other kids. So I got in trouble for that, because in those days, you couldn’t have chocolate for lunch. I was very shy about my name and my culture and my language and the food I was eating, and I was ashamed of it for a long time and angry. As a kid you just want to be like everybody else. As I grew up I realized how fortunate I actually was.”
Long before there was Eataly, Dino brought childhood chef friends over from Italy to open the DDL Foodshow Italian specialty foods market and restaurant in Beverly Hills in the 1980s, where his granddaughter spent her free hours and developed a love of hospitality as she watched Dino hand out bread samples and toss pasta.
“It brought me to life,” she says. “I realized how much I loved being around it and watching the ‘AHH’ moment on people’s faces and that somehow I would like to create that for people. I spent a lot of time there as a kid after school eating, messing around and helping out.
I was just in Italy a few weeks ago with the Lazaroni family who make the little amaretti cookies and spoke to the grandfather who is in his 90s. We were in an upstairs room where he had all these historic artifacts, boxes from his parents. He said to me, ‘You know I used to sell all these different cookies and ship them to your grandfather for DDL Foodshow.’ He had some photos that he had saved of the two of them when he personally brought a shipment to Beverly Hills and helped my grandfather set it all up. Sometimes life really takes you full circle.”
Family has always been the core of the De Laurentiis brood and focus of Giada’s shows. We’ve watched her 14-year-old daughter Jade grow up on the network, with her mother Veronica and aunt Raffy making regular appearances, as well. Siblings Eloisa and Igor have been regulars on her various series. She lost her brother Dino to melanoma 17 years ago. Stepping away from the grind of regular TV shows has offered the UCLA graduate flexibility and the chance to call her own shots.
“I can choose to do the things I want to do when I want to do them,” she says. I can work until 4 p.m., and then go watch Jade’s volleyball game. I didn’t have that flexibility before. When I was shooting, I’d shoot every day until 8 o’clock at night. You would think I could call the shots on that, but when you have a crew, it doesn’t work that way. I want to take Jade to school everyday. I’ve only got about two years left to do that; she’ll be driving herself soon. I want to be able to pick her up. I want to be able to go to her plays. I now have the flexibility to incorporate those things into my schedule. For the last 14 years, it’s been rough. I used to think having her on the show was time spent together. Oh, she’s coming to set right after school and I’ll hang out with her then. But you never hang with them, because they’re asking you things and want your attention and you can’t. Hold on Jade, I have to finish this act, or hold on, i just have to do a quick voice-over or talk to the director for one second. Then by the time you’re done, it’s time to go to bed. Jade’s had a lot of that in her life. It’s too bad I didn’t do this 10 years ago.”
Moving forward, De Laurentiis is going full speed ahead with her catering business, which has been close to her heart since college and few high profile chefs are capable of taking on, save for her former boss Puck, whom she plans to challenge in the major event space. She already has two big galas scheduled for December. It will be a real test, as Puck pretty much has the corner on all of the major Hollywood events, including the Academy Awards.
“For now,” says the diminutive former food stylist. “People are looking for change and a new experience in catering. Things that stay static die, so you have to be able to evolve. It’s time for someone new to come into the game. I think we’ll have restaurants forever, but people aren’t looking to eat out like they used to and that’s going to narrow down who’s going to be successful in this business anymore. This is a good time for me to go back to where I started.”
While she may have inherited a little of her grandfather’s hubris, the free-spirited Italian California girl still understands the Hollywood pecking order.
“Somebody came up to my grandfather at the airport a few years back,” says De Laurentiis. “They said, ‘Oh my gosh! Are you related to Giada?!’ He said no, she is related to ME.’ That’s how it goes.”
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