Everybody says, ‘Don’t trust a skinny cook!’” laughs petite powerhouse Giada De Laurentiis. Ever since the debut of her first Food Network hit show, Everyday Italian, fans have continued to question how this 5-foot-2 chef, television personality, author and entrepreneur could possibly be so thin, feminine and, ahem, sexy.
“I get it all the time,” says De Laurentiis as we talk in anticipation of her fourth appearance at the Food & Wine Classic, where she will present dishes from her new cookbook, Giada at Home: Family Recipes from Italy and California. “It’s really hard for people to see me for who I am. They know I make good food; they buy my cookbooks; they make the recipes and they taste wonderful. They just can’t get past my size.”
Before De Laurentiis’ rise to culinary fame, even her grandfather, Oscar-winning producer Dino De Laurentiis, questioned if she was suited for the rigors of the kitchen. “He felt that kind of work in the kitchen is really meant for men,” she explains. “He always said, ‘Women are supposed to get married and have children; why don’t you get married and have kids?’”
Undeterred, De Laurentiis eventually got it all: a cushy cooking career and, in March 2008, her and her husband Todd’s first child, Jade (the English version of Giada).
“I never thought we would have children,” she says. “Jade was a complete surprise. I was very nervous at first. I wasn’t sure what would happen to my career.”
Her daughter wound up spawning the idea for her new Food Network show, Giada at Home, and her aforementioned fifth cookbook, a tome devoted to scrumptious yet easy dishes geared toward mothers. Her own experience as a new mom, not to mention her close relationship with her extended family, influenced her carefully selected recipes.
“Most of the people that buy my cookbooks are working moms,” she says. “If I don’t enable them to cook good, fresh meals, they’ll rely on McDonald’s or frozen or processed food. The goal is to give them the tools they need to be empowered to cook for their children.”
De Laurentiis actually does a good amount of her own cooking here in Aspen—specifically, Snowmass, where her Aunt Raffy has owned a home for more than 20 years. (“We spend a lot of time in Aspen as a family,” she says.) Last winter, while filming her Christmas special in the mountain town, she introduced
Jade to snow. But it’s Aspen’s enchanting summers that truly resonate with De Laurentiis.
“People don’t realize how much Aspen has to offer in the summer,” she says. “The Food & Wine Classic brings in a lot of people that don’t know just how spectacular summer can be.”
Naturally, De Laurentiis attends food and wine festivals around the country. But Aspen’s Classic has always held a special place. “It’s a different type of person that goes to Aspen—a little more sophisticated and aware of food and wine,” she says. “They are interested in learning more things, and are a little more gourmet.”
Festivals, however, are only a small part of De Laurentiis’ growing empire. She launched a specialty cooking line this year at Target; she attends promotional book tours for her latest cookbook; she regularly tapes her new show; and she even traveled to Peru as an ambassador for relief organization Oxfam America.
For a town that loves celebrity, intellect, beauty and talent, bringing De Laurentiis to the Food & Wine Classic seems like a no-brainer—though it actually took a few years for the powers-that-be to add her to the lineup. It has been well worth the wait.
“When they finally extended the invitation,” she recalls, “I said ‘Yes! I thought you’d never ask!’ I feel very honored to be a part of it.”
TOP: Dress, Oscar de la Renta; Camélia ring, Chanel