“When I worked for Wolfgang Puck, I would be cooking on the line and he would stick his finger in all of the food and taste it. I remember being a little shocked and saying to him, “Shouldn’t you be doing that with a different spoon each time?” He would look at me and say, “That’s what makes my food taste so good.” I’m not saying I stick my finger in the food — at least not when the cameras are rolling. The lesson is that no matter how long you’ve been doing it, the only way you can be sure something tastes good is by tasting, tasting, tasting. Yes, you follow the same recipe, and you’ve made the dish dozens or maybe even hundreds of times before, but there are always variables and every dish is a new creation.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Giada DeLaurentiis. Giada is a world-famous chef, Emmy Award winning television personality, New York Times Bestselling author, restaurateur, philanthropist and entrepreneur. Her career began shortly after launching her own catering company, when De Laurentiis was discovered by a network executive for the Food Network. She quickly became a household name and has hosted a number of Emmy award-winning daytime cooking shows ever since. The popularity of her television shows lead to a series of New York Times bestselling cookbooks, her latest being Giada’s Italy, as well as the opening of two restaurants in Las Vegas and her newest restaurant, GDL Italian, in Baltimore. Additionally, Giada has recently partnered with snack brand Simply7 to create a better-for-you popcorn line and inspire new generations of female farmers.
Thank you so much for joining us Giada! What is your “backstory”?
Born in Rome, I grew up in a large Italian family where the culture of food was ever-present. I consistently found myself in our family’s kitchen and spent a great deal of time at my grandfather’s restaurant, DDL Foodshow. After graduating from the University of California in Los Angeles with a degree in anthropology, my passion for cooking remained. I eventually made the decision to commence a culinary career and began professionally training at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, specializing in both cuisine and pastry. I subsequently returned to Los Angeles, where my training included positions at the prestigious Ritz-Carlton Fine Dining Room and Wolfgang Puck’s Spago in Beverly Hills. I later decided to break off on my own and founded GDL Foods, a catering company in Los Angeles.
My career on Food Network started in 2002 when I was discovered by a network executive upon reading an article about my family in Food & Wine magazine. Since then, I have hosted my own daytime cooking shows such as Everyday Italian, which features quick, healthy and satisfying Italian dishes along with a variety of other series such as Giada’s Weekend Getaways, Giada at Home, Giada Entertains, Giada’s Holiday Handbook, and the Daytime Emmy Award-Nominated Giada in Italy, as well as judge and mentor alongside fellow chef Bobby Flay on the highly popular series Food Network Star.
My shows lead to a series of cookbooks such as my latest, Giada’s Italy, allowing fans to reference, prepare and share their favorite recipes. In June 2014, I opened the doors to my first restaurant, Giada, on the Las Vegas Strip, and have opened several more since then with new locations on the horizon!
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?
One of my first catering jobs out of culinary school was to make Thanksgiving dinner at a client’s home. The family had a big dog and as luck would have it, as soon as I put the turkey on the platter and started walking towards the dinner table, I tripped over the dog and the turkey went flying. You can bet the dog got to it before I did! Needless to say, there was no turkey at that Thanksgiving….but plenty of sides!
What would you advise to someone who wants to emulate your career?
I think to be successful in anything, you have to work hard for it and also continue working hard to maintain it. I may make what I do look easy and fun (and it is, sometimes!), but anyone from my team will tell you how hard we all work. I think you also need to find something you love and you’re good at. Don’t try to push yourself to be what you think you should be, master what you already know and can do, and draw on self-confidence and a firm belief that you can do what you say you can do. You have to believe it before you’ll be able to convince anyone else. Lastly, a few tips I’ve learned over the years….there’s no such thing as too many questions, never assume, always check your receipts and don’t forget to smile!
Is there a person that made a profound impact on your life? Can you share a story?
Growing up in my family, there was a lot of emphasis put on encouraging the men to have drive to do something big with their lives and careers. For the women, there weren’t a lot of expectations beyond getting married and starting a family. That is why my Aunt Raffy, a successful Hollywood producer, is such an inspiration to me. She decided to achieve big things for herself despite family expectations, and I’ve always looked up to her and thought — that is the kind of woman I want to be.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world? Are you working on any meaningful or exciting non profit projects?
When I first began conversations with Simply7 about starting the Simply7 with Giada popcorn line, I asked if it was possible to source ALL of the red and blue corn from female farmers. Unfortunately, there currently aren’t enough female farmers to adequately supply for us. In the U.S., women operate just 6.9 percent of farmland and represent only 3.3 percent of total agriculture sales, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA — September 2014). And the women who choose to make farming a career often face an uphill battle in their pursuit. As a woman who has faced similar challenges carving out a career in a male-dominated industry, I wanted to try and make a difference for these women. I worked with Simply7 to create the Fund Her Farm initiative to help organizations that support and empower networks of female farmers in the US. A lot of these farmers are very isolated from one another, so there are fewer spaces where they can get together to share information and advance in their careers. Fund her Farm works to create better access to these communities, and we hope as they continue to establish themselves we will eventually meet our goal to source all of the corn for our popcorn from female farmers.
Wow! Can you tell me a story about a person who was impacted by your cause?
While we are still working to partner with more female farmers, I am so excited to be sourcing popcorn from our first female farmer Cheryl in Illinois, who Simply7 recently featured in a video on its website. Learning her story and hearing about her passion for agriculture reassures me that Fund Her Farm is a worthy initiative that can make a real impact on the farming industry. Women are natural care-takers, so it makes sense that we should have more women in roles involving stewardship of our earth and its resources.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
A. You are your best secret weapon
a. Early on in my career, there were people who dismissed me as a chef because I am a woman and also because of my size. This was a good lesson for me in terms of turning a disadvantage into an advantage. Who I am is a part of my brand now, and being one of a kind helps me to stand out in a very full market. That is my best advice to people trying to enter any large marketplace — figure out what makes you special rather than trying to emulate other people’s success. I do Italian food, but I do it in a way that has my stamp.
B. You can only juggle so much
a. It can be so tempting to say “yes” to everything when you’re starting out and unsure if another great opportunity will ever come along, but learning how to say no is a valuable skill and one I have only recently developed. When you say yes to everything and everyone you think you’re being smart and successful, but you end up stretching yourself too thin and are too tired to do your best work. When I became a mom I realized that I had to be more selective if I was going to be successful and avoid become a mediocre parent, partner and professional. I don’t ever want to be mediocre at anything! My life is still a juggling act, but I’m not afraid to pass on something when my heart isn’t fully in it.
C. The drama is in the details
a. Building a restaurant from scratch has been an amazing experience, but also a very challenging one. I thought I knew that it was going to be consuming going in, but really I had no idea. There are so many little details, so many things to consider. I was recently picking chairs. I had a few options that I thought were great, but then I found out that you have to have every chair in your restaurant insured for a certain amount of uses at a certain weight. If you don’t do that, a customer who falls from one of your chairs could potentially sue you. I had no idea, and it certainly changed the way I was looking at chairs. That is just one example among hundreds. The key to keeping all of these balls in the air is making sure you have a great team who you trust and who you take care of. I am so lucky to have that. I have no idea how I could have managed this kind of project without them.
D. Every cook needs a VIP (a very important pantry)
a. People are always telling me they want to cook more but the problem is, they see the kitchen as a daunting place. My advice is to make sure you have the basics, so that you don’t have to make this super involved trip to the grocery store every time you want to make dinner. A stocked pantry and a stocked freezer are key: dried pastas are amazing, jarred tomato sauces — my family had a heart attack when I first started telling people that they could make pastas with jarred sauces. And then you want to have your flavour enhancers such as sundried tomatoes, olives and garlic and anchovy paste. Frozen peas can add colour and flavour. When you have all of these things, suddenly going to the grocery store to pick up meat or a fresh vegetable doesn’t feel like such a big deal.
E. You should give your food the finger
A. When I worked for Wolfgang Puck, I would be cooking on the line and he would stick his finger in all of the food and taste it. I remember being a little shocked and saying to him, “Shouldn’t you be doing that with a different spoon each time?” He would look at me and say, “That’s what makes my food taste so good.” I’m not saying I stick my finger in the food — at least not when the cameras are rolling. The lesson is that no matter how long you’ve been doing it, the only way you can be sure something tastes good is by tasting, tasting, tasting. Yes, you follow the same recipe, and you’ve made the dish dozens or maybe even hundreds of times before, but there are always variables and every dish is a new creation.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I am committed to supporting and encouraging women in all aspects of their life — and am especially committed to helping women in food-related industries. Together with Simply7 we have created the Fund Her Farm initiative to inspire new generations of female farmers. We’re working with organizations who empower women in agriculture in every aspect of the industry and we plan to eventually source 100 percent of the red and blue corn from female farmers in the United States.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?
Follow your gut! When in doubt, eat Popcorn!
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this :-)