Giada De Laurentiis tells how her recipes are born

Giada De Laurentiis will sign copies of her new cookbook in King of Prussia.
Giada De Laurentiis will sign copies of her new cookbook in King of Prussia. (AMY NEUNSINGER)
Posted: March 29, 2012

Food Network chef Giada De Laurentiis will be signing copies of her new cookbook, Weeknights With Giada, Quick and Simple Recipes to Revamp Dinner (Clarkson Potter), at the Williams Sonoma store in King of Prussia at noon Thursday. (If you miss that appearance, try the Wegmans store in Allentown at 5 p.m. Thursday.)

We chatted with her for 12 minutes on the phone - literally all her schedulers would allow.

Question: How are your recipes created?

Answer: We come up with themes for the shows, and I write recipes based on those. Then they get tweaked for the cookbooks. The inspiration comes from everywhere, from dishes when I was growing up, from where I have been traveling, from restaurants, from how I am feeling when I get up in the morning. You know how you have a feeling in the morning about what you want to wear, what color, how you base your wardrobe on how you feel? Well, sometimes that is how I think of recipes, based on how I feel, what I am craving, what looks good to me at the farmer's market.

Q. What's the process?

A. I still write all my recipes myself. I actually write it down on a piece of paper. When you have been writing recipes as long as I have, you can kind of write them down, read them back, and know they are going to work. Then I give it to the recipe tester, and they tell me what the problem is; they give me feedback. Then I make it and we go back and forth. This is the longest process, it can take several weeks, it's very laborious. But it is rewarding, when it comes out and it is fabulous. I also give it to my sister and my girlfriends to make. They are always my barometer as to whether it will work.

Q. How has life as a TV chef, as opposed to a restaurant and catering chef, changed your sensibility for cooking?

A. I don't have nearly the same amount of time that I used to have. When I started, I still had a catering company, and I spent many hours playing with recipes and ingredients, like a scientist in the kitchen. Now as a TV chef, and because I am a mom, my daughter is 4, I want to use my free time hanging out with her. The time I spend playing in the kitchen has become very minimal. Some day I will go back to that, those are the days that I miss.

Q. Do you consider cost of ingredients, calories, healthiness? Or are you more oriented toward flavor?

A. I'm always thinking about ingredients people can find all over the country. Cooking seasonally is not always a reality for everyone. I try to use ingredients that are not terribly expensive, and I love a recipe to be eight to 10 ingredients, because after that it becomes overwhelming. I use mostly ingredients that people have seen and know and love, and then one or two to give it a new flavor, or color or texture. I do not calorie-count, I'm not very good at that. Portioning is more important to me than calorie-counting. My portions are not very big. I've had complaints from people who say they have to double my recipes to have enough to eat. But I say, "I'm portioning it out for you.' "

Q. Is that how you stay so thin?

A. Precisely. Personally, I did not grow up eating a ton of food. My parents didn't serve us massive amounts of food, so it's how I grew up. I eat everything, I just don't eat a lot of anything' Really, after three or four bites, your palate understands what it is eating. Your first impression often comes from the color, you eat with your eyes first. Second is the chewing, the texture, then your taste buds register the flavor, and it tells your brain. It is not going to get any better, after the first few bites.

Q. What trends do you see emerging in the world of recipes? Do you think the people who watch your shows and buy your cookbooks are actually cooking more?

A. I do think people are cooking more, and the evidence is that you can find so many more ingredients at local grocery stores, and the prices are starting to fall. I think Food Network has glamorized cooking. If people think it's cool, it's bound to become popular.... We all have to eat, might as well enjoy doing it.

Q. Is it a pain to have to cook in full hair and makeup in front of a camera?

A. It's not the hair and makeup that bother me, it's the camera. I was used to cooking in my kitchen by myself. For me, it was almost therapy, I would talk to myself. Most cooks are shy, they like being away from everyone in the kitchen. They like to give pleasure from afar. It's not easy when asked to come out of the shell and tell everyone what you are doing. It goes against the nature of the cook. It has been a process for me, to always be looking into that lens. It gets easier once you figure out who you are talking to.

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