Petite in size yet grand in accomplishments, this global cook/author/television personality is a powerful presence in the world of all things culinary.The journey of Giada De Laurentiis from caterer to celebrated chef was in many ways a natural one. A passion for cooking no doubt originated in the genes as she grew up in a large Italian family steeped in the love of food, culture, and tradition. At the head of the dining table? None other than famed film producer Dino De Laurentiis, whose family formerly owned a pasta factory in Naples.
“Sundays we were all together in the kitchen,” Giada De Laurentiis says. “My grandfather traveled a lot so it was important we had family time together. We had big late lunches around 2 or 3 p.m., and the adults weren’t afraid to have us kids in the kitchen helping!”
When grandfather Dino wasn’t producing hit films such as King Kong or Serpico, he ran the DDL Foodshow, a specialty Italian gourmet market with locations in Beverly Hills and New York. De Laurentiis notes, “It was one of the first Dean & DeLuca-type places without the produce. He brought the idea from Naples and would bring cooks in for demonstrations.” She spent a lot of time there as a child and apparently that was where the culinary die was cast. Dino’s venture was certainly ahead of its time, and the excitement and skills of the cooking events were passed on to his impressionable and enterprising granddaughter. “Now cooking is second nature!” the charismatic 41-year-old declares.
Born in Rome, De Laurentiis moved to the United States at the age of 7 with her mother and grew up in tony Beverly Hills. After graduating from UCLA with a degree in anthropology, she studied for a professional career at the famed Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, where she specialized in both cuisine and pastry — much to the chagrin of her grandfather, who thought cooking was “men’s work.” Upon her return to Los Angeles, she trained at the Ritz-Carlton Fine Dining Room and Wolfgang Puck’s Spago in Beverly Hills before launching her catering company, GDL Foods.
Many have helped guide De Laurentiis along her path in the cooking world. She credits her passion and inspiration for cooking to her aunt Raffy. “She is my cooking buddy in the kitchen, and we play with all sorts of things and recipes. She travels all over the world and brings back ingredients.” Her mother passed on the knack of feeding four children relatively quickly, a gift that comes in handy as she demonstrates the art of meal preparation on her television shows. But she also admires cooks outside the family such as fellow chefs Ina Garten, whom De Laurentiis describes as “very soothing, comfortable in her own skin, and a very down-to-earth cook”; the “elegant” Jacques Pépin; and Martha Stewart, whose work she finds “groundbreaking and empowering for women in the business.”
De Laurentiis’ big break arrived when Food & Wine magazine, where she was working as a food stylist, asked her to organize a family dinner in honor of her grandfather in 2002. As a result, the Food Network signed her for a pilot, and the camera immediately picked up on her glamour and charisma, launching a successful television career. De Laurentiis’ hit shows have included Everyday Italian, Giada’s Weekend Getaways, and the viewers’ favorite, Giada at Home. She has also appeared in specials such as Giada in Paradise: Capri and Santorini, sat in as a judge for the popular series Food Network Star, and worked as a correspondent on NBC’s Today show. It is obvious that De Laurentiis’ infectious enthusiasm and simple and accessible recipes have hit a cultural nerve as people return to the traditions of the family meal table.