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September 14, 2014

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Giada De Laurentiis’ recipe for Strip success? Chop male star chefs down to size

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Chef and TV personality Giada De Laurentiis.

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Giada De Laurentiis and Robin Leach in New York on Thursday, Oct. 17, 2013, for the Food Network's 20th anniversary.

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Giada De Laurentiis in Las Vegas.

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Gail Simmons and Giada De Laurentiis at Marquee's grand opening at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas on Dec. 31, 2010.

Pint-sized powerhouse chef Giada De Laurentiis is ready to do battle on the Strip. The effervescent Food Network star is prepared for a war against the kitchen kings – and she is determined to win by bringing a woman’s touch to her first-ever restaurant.

She’ll open Giada in April at the to-be-renamed former site of Bill’s Gamblin’ Hall & Saloon opposite Bally’s, Bellagio and Caesars Palace. Caesars Entertainment and Gansevoort Hotels one week ago parted company suddenly, and the luxurious 186-room boutique property is yet to get its new name.

The brunette beauty spent this past weekend making her first selections of fabrics, chairs, tables, flooring materials and lighting for Giada.

“This is a huge adventure for me,” she told me at the 20th anniversary Food Network party in New York last week. “It is so exciting but at the same time nerve-wracking. It’s my first-ever restaurant. Everything will be new. It’s not a conversion of a previous restaurant. The kitchens and the dining rooms have been designed and are built from scratch.

“And, of course, I picked the Las Vegas Strip where all the male food-world stars reign. I’m determined to show them that a female can be their equal, and knowing me I’ll want to beat them at their own game!”

It will be a year’s project for Giada. She knew back in March that she’d landed the deal for the sprawling 12,000-square-foot space, and next April she’ll be ready and open for business. She told me that in two weeks, she’ll fly here for a week of menu testing with the corporate suits of Caesars.

“I’ll do all the cooking. They will do all the tasting. Then we can begin to decide exactly what will remain for the restaurant and what we’ll save for later.”

The girl with the movie-star looks, inherited from her Italian film-director grandfather Dino De Laurentiis who produced more than 600 films that won many awards, told me: “Ever since I was a little girl hanging out at his restaurant, I dreamed of having my own one. Now I’m finally ready for its responsibilities and challenges. This dream forever is now becoming a reality.”

In the 1980s, Dino owned and operated the retail Italian markets DDL Foodshow he set up as luxury-food stores in Manhattan and Los Angeles. Giada says she still remembers eating his homemade pasta that eventually became a factory of pasta in Rome, and now she’ll follow in his footsteps with her own handmade staples of the traditional cuisine.

“We’ll have all the expected delicious, nutritious and healthy pasta dishes, plus, add in surprise shapes and sauces whenever we want to make a difference. Each day, we’ll have a different special pasta.”

She credits the legendary filmmaker (“Barbarella,” “Serpico,” “Orca,” “Three Days of the Condor”) who was married to stunning actress Silvano Mangano for her ambitions. “My family was big. Grandfather always thought big and produced big films. He said you have to go big or go home, so I’m taking his advice and building a big restaurant in the best possible location right in the center of the Strip. It may be a small hotel, but we’re going to be big.

“I’m jumping hoops about the opening, but my stomach is doing flips with the nerves. With a first-ever restaurant, it means for the first time I will be vulnerable to criticism. My worry is not so much about the food because I can ensure that it’s perfect, but I worry about the service at the tables.

“My kitchens will be open so that everybody can see what I am doing, what the team is doing. I want to show as much as we can to our customers. From the moment they come in, they will be hit with the aromas from the kitchen. We’ll be making our own breads, pastas and pizzas right there in full view of everybody.”

Giada’s Everyday Italian

Giada, who stars in “Everyday Italian” and “Giada at Home” on the Food Network, says her menu will be true Italian but with lighter California influences. She describes it as al-fresco dining, although she’s picked “posh living-room furniture” for diners looking through large glass windows out onto the mountains and Bellagio Fountains. In addition to the dining, there will be separate bars for drinks and antipasto.

“I want people to feel right at home, as if they’ve walked into my own home when they arrive there for a meal. I want it to feel like a lot of fun, very community as if my entire family from Italy and America was sitting down for dinner with them. I’ll even give them a hug so they feel like family,” she added.

The Cordon Bleu in Paris-trained chef also will be responsible for the 24-hour room service for hotel guests. “I will probably go secretly man the room-service phones at 2 a.m. to see what guests want for snacks in the middle of the night. I’ll take their orders; that will give me a good idea of their needs.

“I won’t let on that it’s me, but if they guess, that will be OK. It also will allow me to steer them to something that’s a favorite of mine they might not have necessarily tried. I’ll have some real fun with that.”

Giada’s lasagna rolls

Giada promised me that all her favorite top-rated Food Network recipes will be available, including her chicken piccata, chicken cacciatore, Roman-style chicken, lemon spaghetti, lasagna rolls, butternut squash lasagna and her popular macaroni and cheese. I promised her that I wouldn’t forget her lemon ricotta cookies with lemon glaze, and she said that she wouldn’t forget them, either.

Although a huge after-work fan of sashimi and sushi, Giada told me that she’s thoroughly impressed with rival Italian foods served by Paul Bartolotta at his Wynn restaurant and Scott Conant’s Scarpetta in the Cosmopolitan.

“I’ve already discovered the Asian treats on Spring Mountain Road, but I turned to Bobby Flay, who has his Mesa Grill at Caesars Palace, for a lot of advice about the Las Vegas restaurant scene. We had several lunches where he gave me tips on what to expect and how I could meet my own expectations and keep my life sane. He has been really helpful. I give him credit for a lot of the decisions I made about coming to Vegas and what to do there.”

At the Food Network party, Bobby told me: “She’s going to win big in Las Vegas. She knows what she wants, and she’s disciplined and dedicated to deliver it. She works very, very hard with her TV shows and her cookbooks, and I know she’ll have the same energy and determination for her first restaurant.”

As I asked her to comment about the Caesars lineup of star chefs — Gordon Ramsay, Nobu Matsuhisa, Guy Savoy, Wolfgang Puck and her mentor Bobby — Giada summed up: “I know that I’m the woman going up against a male-dominated Strip. I’m ready for the battle because this is the time. I’m very confident. I will bring a much warmer feeling with emotions to the dining scene. A woman’s touch. This is the restaurant of my dreams.”

Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.

Follow Robin Leach on Twitter at Twitter.com/Robin_Leach.

Follow Vegas DeLuxe on Twitter at Twitter.com/vegasdeluxe.

Follow Sun A&E Senior Editor Don Chareunsy on Twitter at Twitter.com/VDLXEditorDon.

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