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Q+A: From furniture and fabrics to menu, Giada De Laurentiis is hands on at new restaurant


Vegas Player Magazine

Chef Giada De Laurentiis.

The Cromwell Las Vegas

The Cromwell Las Vegas. Launch slideshow »

Giada De Laurentiis

Giada De Laurentiis at Sur La Table

Giada De Laurentiis hosts a signing for her new cookbook Giada at Home: Family Recipes from Italy and California at Sur La Table inside Planet Hollywood's Miracle Mile Shops on April 5, 2010. Launch slideshow »

She’s the star chef with the movie-star looks, and with her platinum pedigree, Giada De Laurentiis could easily be a darling on the silver screen as much as she is on the TV screen.

Growing up in Rome the granddaughter of Italian director Dino De Laurentiis, Giada instead learned from him the joys of food — and eating it.

When he wasn’t behind the camera directing superstars Sophia Loren and Gina Lollobrigida, Dino had his own pasta factory and opened food emporiums in New York and Los Angeles.

Now the Food Network’s pint-sized powerhouse is about to open her first restaurant, Giada, and it’s right here on the Strip at the new Cromwell, which is being transformed and made anew from the shell of the onetime Barbary Coast and Bill’s Gamblin’ Hall & Saloon.

I interviewed Giada last October in New York at the 20th-anniversary celebrations of the Food Network.

Giada posed for a photo shoot and interview for an upcoming issue of Caesars Entertainment’s Vegas Player Magazine. Vegas DeLuxe has an early preview of next month’s spring issue being distributed at the end of March. The gorgeous cover shot proves the movie-star heritage.

As the spring opening of her first restaurant gets closer, the pace of her Las Vegas visits has been picking up in intensity. She is hands on for everything from testing out menu items for Caesars executives to finding furniture and fabrics, deciding on the color schemes and ensuring that her signature dishes excel onscreen and at Las Vegas tables.

Here’s the Caesars Entertainment Q+A:

You have the deal signed now, but have you always wanted to do a Las Vegas venture specifically or just somewhere that was the right fit and space?

I think what talked me into it were a few different things. The location of the space, No. 1, and the fact that it was close to my house, but not that close. That it’s a place people find they want to come be entertained, that is more whimsical. People come here to just spend money and have fun and get away from their regular, everyday life.

That to me was very attractive because I think people who watch my show, they want to learn about cooking, but they want to have a half-hour getaway. All of those things spoke to me when I saw the space. It was indoor-outdoor dining, and I was getting to build a restaurant from scratch, and that almost never happens.

I felt like Caesars was a good team to build something with, and they were giving me an opportunity of a lifetime in a new hotel on the Strip on a prime corner with a view and the Bellagio Fountains. Honestly, I would have been silly to pass it up, and a lot of people wanted the space, so I couldn’t say no.

There are so many Italian restaurants in Las Vegas, and yours will have a special Giada touch with California influences, but how do you plan to differentiate it from everything else out there?

That is what I am working on now, teaching the folks who are at Caesars what the Giada brand truly is and why it’s going to be different. I want something more sensual, more feminine. We were doing these meatballs in tomato sauce, and I said, “They are delicious and they are beautiful, but why does that belong in my restaurant?”

Every dish, people have to say, “That’s a Giada dish you can only get in her restaurant.” So I said let’s downscale the meatballs, let’s make them much smaller. Let’s puree the sauce so it’s not so chunky and so hearty, and let’s add some orzo inside the meatball.

I’m not saying that I’m reinventing the Italian wheel, and there are some really great Italian restaurants here, so I’m not saying there aren’t, but they don’t have my touch. The Border Grill girls (Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken) are the only other female chefs on the Strip, so just that alone is going to make a huge difference.

Click to enlarge photo

Chef and TV personality Giada De Laurentiis.

Click to enlarge photo

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

Can you talk about that detail in the restaurant’s atmosphere?

I’ve been talking with the designers about how I want to use warm palette colors instead of dark, and I want it to feel almost like you are walking into my home and make it slightly residential with all the lighting and furniture. There are many different ways we are going to do that, but it’s thinking a little outside the box. I have to serve breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner and late night, so to create different feelings in this size restaurant is a bit tricky.

What about the design elements?

The first thing you will see when you walk in the front doors is the antipasto bar and someone making pasta. I want it to feel like they are starting to explore a different world, and the sights and smells will be so inviting. We are going to use different fabrics on different things and create a sleek, modern version of Italian and have a little bit of gold that will bring in a lot of warmth.

I’m a white-color person, so I like a lot of white with pops of color, but neutral otherwise. The windows will open beautifully out, the way they do in Italy, which will give it a nice touch with lots of natural light coming through since I’m on the second and third floors. It’s like a big hug walking in; it makes you happy.

There are so many restaurants now catching on to more health-conscious dishes and catering toward people who are vegan or vegetarian or gluten free. Will you be incorporating any of this into your menu?

Yes, I will have a vegan and a gluten-free menu, and what I want people to understand is it doesn’t have to be an afterthought. I think people felt guilty for being vegetarian or whatever their restrictions were because most chefs felt like I will just get some vegetables and saute them for you.

It was such an afterthought. I think it makes really great food, and they should be able to enjoy food like the rest of us. My last cookbook is all about that, so I’m definitely on that train.

What are some of the signature dishes and menu items?

My chicken cacciatore but an elevated version, meaning maybe a whole chicken people can split — chicken for two. The idea with the menu is you do family style with the antipasto, and there are three or four themes. People can pick what they want off the menu, but I think it would be nice for the waiter to say, “These are Giada’s favorite pairings depending on what you are here to celebrate and what you like.”

They could share the antipasto, they could share the pasta instead of everyone ordering their own pasta. Then everybody will order their own main course, then they can share dessert again. That way they can taste everything but never feel extremely full. That is truly how Italians eat. We don’t all get our own full plate of pasta; we share, and we nibble.

Everyone asks how you stay so in shape being an Italian chef. How much pasta do you actually eat every day?

I eat a little bit of everything and not a lot of everything. I eat a little bit of pasta, but not a lot. I maybe eat a little more chocolate than I should. Even today, I nibbled on a lot of things. I had some parmesan cheese, and I have almonds that I always carry with me.

A lot of times at the end of the day when I’m working like this, I will end up having one meal, and the rest of the time it’s a snack. Usually dinner just because it’s when my husband and daughter eat a meal together.

You’re in touch with the culinary world and travel frequently, so where do you see Las Vegas’ ranking as far as culinary hotspots around the world?

If you are looking to travel and have a variety of dining experiences and be entertained and have a wow factor, Las Vegas is No. 1 on the list. There is no other city in the world that has all those elements.

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.

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