By Ryan Slattery
Giada De Laurentiis on why Las Vegas is the ideal location for her first restaurant.
Action! When I first meet Giada De Laurentiis, she’s in the kitchen casually rolling meatballs— though not the monstrous kind all slathered in sauce that some restaurants prize. These are compact, bite-size morsels. Smaller and moredelicate—just like all of the dishes on the menu of her first restaurant, opening later this spring at The Cromwell in Las Vegas. “I want to create something more sensual. I want something more feminine,” she explains. “We were working on the menu and doing these meatballs, and they presented me with these four large meatballs in tomato sauce. Kind of messy. I said, ‘They’re delicious; they look beautiful; but why does that belong in my restaurant?’ That belongs in any Italian restaurant anywhere in the country. That does not say Giada. For every dish we serve, people need to be able to look at it and say, that’s a Giada dish—you can only get it at her restaurant.” So in true Giada style, she decided to downscale the meatballs and purée the sauce “so it’s not so chunky or hearty, but more delicate, more feminine,” she says. But she didn’t stop there. “I decided to add orzo inside of the meatball so when someone cracks into it there is a little bit of pasta. It’s the subtle things that make it unique in its own way; something that nobody else is doing.”
Giada then pauses for a second, smiles and adds, “I’m not saying I’m reinventing the Italian wheel. There are some really great restaurants here in Las Vegas, but they don’t have my touch. My touch is different.”
Her reach extends beyond the kitchen. In fact, she admits to being “a perfectionist, sometimes to a fault.” She even had several sets of chairs delivered to her house and asked her family members to sit in them to determine if they were comfortable and restaurant worthy. “It was like musical chairs,” she laughs. “When you start from ground zero, your hands are in everything. I believe I need to be a part of every move — at least I try to be. I’m not one of those chefs who will just walk into the restaurant the week before it opens. I’m going to be there every step of the way.”
Giada admits her hands-on approach may be a result of working at Spago with Wolfgang
Puck after finishing culinary school. “More than advice from Wolfgang, I watched Wolfgang,” she says. “I watched how he treated his staff. I watched how he tasted his food, how he was a part of every single thing that he did. He was his own brand manager, and I find that is crucial. You need to have a say in everything you put your name on.”
With deep roots in Los Angeles, where she still lives with her husband, Todd Thompson,
and their six-year-old daughter, Jade, the question has to be asked, why open your first
restaurant in Las Vegas? “The location was number one. I was getting to build a restaurant
from scratch on one of the most famous intersections in the world. I would have been a
dummy to pass it up,” she says, noting, “Vegas is so much a part of my family. With my family in the movie business, it’s always been beautiful adventures—lights, camera, action. And there is no place on earth that has more lights, camera, action than Las Vegas.”
Food Over Film
Odds were pretty good you’d end up in Hollywood, if you were born into theDe Laurentiis family. Giada’s grandfather, Dino De Laurentiis, was an Academy Award®-winning producer. Her mother, Veronica, an actress, and numerous other family members work in variousroles within the industry to this day. However, Giada took a different path.
“I tried [show business] for a short time. Everybody in my family has to try it,” she says. “I just never found my place. The place I felt the best was in the kitchen.” We can thank her grandfather for that as well. It was his Italian gourmet shop in Los Angeles, DDL Foodshow, where 12-year-old Giada felt the most comfortable—among the pizzaiolos and bread makers from Naples.
“I would go there after school and I would watch people’s faces in amazement as they smiled when they walked through the doors,” she recalls with a grin. “I just fell in love with the concept — the food, the aromas. Just the way it made people happy. That ‘wow’ factor.
I thought to myself, ‘I want to do that.’”
Convinced she wanted to become a pastry chef, Giada set off to study in Paris at the esteemed Le Cordon Bleu. Once in France, she found herself away from her family for the first time in her life. “I was terrified and petrified,” she admits. “I lived in a bubble my whole life, and all of a sudden, I was placed in a foreign land where I didn’t speak the language and didn’t know anybody. When I got there, I thought, ‘I don’t want to do this
anymore.’ I went four or five months begging my mother, ‘I want to come home; I to want quit. I don’t want to stay here.’ But my mom said, ‘No, once you make a decision in life, you have to stick with it.’ She was like, you’ll never forgive yourself. She was right. I stuck it out. I was miserable for some time, but I eased into it.”
Following stints working at the Ritz-Carlton, Spago and as a personal chef for director Ron Howard, Giada started styling food for magazine photography sessions, including Food & Wine, Martha Stewart Living and Bon Appétit. Soon thereafter, the Food Network came calling.
“I ran, but I couldn’t hide,” she laughs of finding her place in Hollywood. “It came full circle, but I didn’t mean for it to. I guess the camera found me, regardless. I truly believe I got to where I am today with a lot of hard work. But it was also timing: Stars aligned, and sometimes in life that’s what it takes. This was different than acting. I can be myself. I’m not sure I’m good at playing somebody else.”
Viva Las Vegas!
When you walk into her namesake restaurant, GIADA , it will feel like home — Giada’s home, that is. “I want something that is inviting and warm. I want it to feel like you’re coming over to a dinner party at my house.”
The alfresco dining area, she says, will have Italian tile floors and marble table tops, while a more formal section will feature tables draped with white tablecloths. In a nod to Italy, retractable windows will open to allow for fresh air to flow in, while pops of color will
punctuate the room. “I want it to be like a big hug walking in.”
As for the food, Giada says she’ll have special vegan and gluten-free offerings to ensure everyone has choices. “I think for a long time people felt guilty for having dietary restrictions,” she says.
“I think we can make some really great food and can create a menu for people with dietary needs. Everyone should be able to enjoy great food. It shouldn’t be an afterthought.”
The rest of the menu follows Giada’s own food philosophy. “I eat a little bit of everything and not a lot of anything,” she explains of the family-style menu. “I’m trying to teach people that concept. They can taste everything, but they’re never going to feel extremely full. That’s truly how Italians eat. We don’t all get our own plate of pasta. We share. We
nibble and taste everything. I want people to experience the menu by sharing a series of small plates.”
So what’s next for the Emmy-winning, bestselling author and now restaurateur? “That’s a very good question. I’d like to make more food programming. Not demo-style cooking shows like mine but maybe a scripted food-related comedy or movie.” She continues,
“I would like to produce and do that type of stuff a bit more, and build my businesses where I don’t have to be in front of the camera 24/7. I’m looking to break ground and do a few new interesting things in the future.” It seems as though, instead of escaping Hollywood, Giada has dug in.