She’s super-talented in the kitchen and is pretty much made for TV thanks to her beauty and personality. She has numerous cookbooks, several programs on the Food Network, she appears regularly as a special contributor on The Today Show, and most recently, she was a mentor on the latest Food Network Star series.
What it takes to shine
Giada’s personality on TV is pretty much what it is off camera -- but even more personable -- like talking to one of your girlfriends. Bubbly and eager to talk, she seems to make the most of her time between tasks, which is how filming the Food Network Star series went, too.
“We shot all of the episodes for the series -- except for the finale -- at once. We have the contestants sort of under lock and key and we wouldn’t want to send them home and bring them back over and over. It’s just too much.”
If that sounds like something a concerned mother would say about her children, then you understand what Giada’s mentoring style was like for her team. Like most moms, Giada had lots of advice to give her team. She really encouraged them to tell stories about their lives and families to draw people in. “With live cooking demos, winging it is part of the plan. It’s less about the food and more about your personality.”
"It’s your spark, your personality, your enthusiasm and storytelling that sells you, your food and your brand."
“You definitely have to have the culinary knowledge, but truly it’s your personality that’s going to sell you and your food. No one is going to be able to taste or smell your food. Most of the senses we associate with food, you can’t use them when you’re watching television. It’s your spark, your personality, your enthusiasm and storytelling that sells you, your food and your brand. Having a strong point of view is very important along with your ability to charm the audience. You can only do that through your own personality.”
Picking a winner
Was there a clear-cut series winner from the start of filming that Giada and her equally talented colleagues, Bobby Flay and Alton Brown, could see right away? “We each picked our own teams at the beginning and we felt we had the strongest people. We could see the rough diamonds,” said Giada. “The three of us had to polish them to make them shine and so much of it was their stories that helped connect us to them.”
Although Giada's finalist, Yvan, did not win the competition, Giada was passionate about, and believed in, the process of the American viewers voting for the winner. "It’s very telling and we want to know," she said. Justin Warner, mentored by Alton Brown, is the next Food Network star thanks to the 4.5 million people who voted.
There’s no question that Giada can make great Italian meals, but what else does she cook? “I really enjoy Japanese and Thai cuisine. My husband loves Thai food and we used to go out for it all the time,” she noted. “It’s a little harder now to go out to dinner with our daughter, so I try to recreate some of the same flavors at home.”
When asked which seasonal ingredients she enjoys using right now, Giada had to think for a minute, as if to determine the month. “Well, that’s funny because I’m shooting my show right now and we’re already filming Thanksgiving and Christmas shows!”
“One favorite right now is my watermelon with watercress and feta salad. I love using watermelon in savory dishes instead of thinking of it only as a dessert or fruit on its own.” After talking about the hot weather for a few minutes, Giada noted that she likes to use couscous with watermelon, too. “I like the light, fresh sorts of dishes. The less cooking people can do in the summer, and just sort of assemble their food, the better. Then your kitchen won’t get too hot!"
"I’ve been doing parfaits right now, too. Layered with yogurts and fresh fruit in lots of different colors. I like honey-yogurt between fruit topped with amaretti cookies or sometimes pistachios or any other toasted nuts.”
Not like grandma made
Giada doesn’t consider he cooking to be classic Italian cooking. “My cooking is modern Italian with a California spin to it,” she said. “I try to lighten recipes and make them more accessible to people. I wouldn’t say that I make Italian food that your grandma would make, but more of a younger, more modern version.”
She probably doesn’t have as much time in her own kitchen as grandma did, but she does cook for her family. “When I’m home I cook about three to four nights a week. I think most people cook that much.” She is clear to point out that she gets creative in the kitchen to save time. “I’ll revamp leftovers so I don’t have to make a new dish every, single night. I’ll add another ingredient or turn a pasta dish into a frittata or a pork tenderloin into sandwiches or a salad.”
"The more you love what you do, the more it shows and the more infectious it becomes!"
When it comes to learning from her family, Giada explains that there are "about a million" things she’s learned. “Tradition is really important in my family, and I was taught that it’s important to be passionate about what you do. The more you love what you do, the more it shows and the more infectious it becomes!”
Fit for life
When you come across fit and trim chefs like Giada, many people (especially us gals) wonder how she stays in such great shape. If you’re hoping her trick is as much ice cream as you’d like, you’ll be disappointed. “Portion control. I don’t eat a lot -- I eat a little of everything and not a lot of anything. I do a lot of yoga (three or four days a week before work) and I stay active," says Giada. “I keep up with my husband, who is an extreme athlete. I do paddling and go biking. It’s a lifestyle, but it’s genetics, too. My mom is really little. It’s a combination of many things, but for me, as I get older I have to watch it a little more!”
It seems like Giada is used to have a lot going on in her life, but we might have to wait to hear what’s next. “I have a lot of balls up in the air right now,” she said with a hint of mystery. “I’m off to London for the Olympics to do some spots for The Today Show, then I’m going on vacation with my family. After that, it’s back to work in September. We’ll see what the end of 2012 and 2013 has in store!”
More on noted chefs
Adam Richman talk sandwiches, food and travel
Famous foodie profile: Curtis Stone
Rachel Ray’s top 10 ingredients
Photo credit: Ivan Nikolov/WENN.com