Golden Girl Giada De Laurentiis

Giada De Laurentiis talks about her early passion for cooking, her love of chocolate, and maintaining a positive state of mind.

By Bonnie Siegler

Photography by Elisabeth Caren

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Giada De Laurentiis admits that she feels sexy when wearing light, airy dresses that flow in the wind. She also likes to have just a hint of a tan – and she likes to wear red. “Wearing red makes me feel powerful,” says the Food Network chef and best-selling author. “My grandfather was a Leo and he had a lot of red everywhere,” says De Laurentiis. “I’m a Leo too, so to me red equals power. A bright red makes me feel strong, sexy and empowered – it’s everything I strive for.”

De Laurentiis has been firm on what she strives from a young age. Growing up in Rome, she discovered a passion for cooking at just six years of age. “My family used to make pizza dough on Sunday mornings; let it rise, then pound it out. Then, around 4:00 p.m., my grandmother used to set up a little pizza bar with different toppings. Each of us kids would roll out our dough, and make whatever pizza we wanted. It was fun and messy, and also one of the reasons I fell so madly in love with cooking.”

De Laurentiis moved to the states, but later returned to Europe to study at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, with aspirations of becoming a pastry chef. However, once she returned to the States she worked as a professional chef, most notably for Spago, The Wolfgang Puck-owned Los Angeles haunt. She went on to work as a food stylist, and soon caught the attention of the Food Network with a piece she did for Food and Wine magazine in 2002.

Her Food Network cooking show, Everyday Italian, debuted in April 2003 to rave reviews, and a loyal fan base soon followed. The success of her first show has given De Laurentiis access to other Food Network shows, such as Giada at Home, and guest co-host segments on Today. She also received a daytime Emmy for Outstanding Lifestyle Host, and in 2012 was inducted into the Culinary Hall of Fame. Her current book Happy Cooking with Giada De Laurentiis is poised to become another bestseller.

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The Journey of Happiness

Life hasn’t always been sweet for De Laurentiis. When she was 32, she lost her younger brother Dino to melanoma. She made a promise to him to live her life with passion, and not to deprive herself of food and fun. “Dino didn’t get the chance to do everything he wanted to in life,” she says. “Happiness adds to a person’s overall well-being and longevity.” When you’re in a good state of mind, and your mind is strong, it controls every part of your body.

“I was doing a piece on Italian women recently and my mother, who lives in Rome, put a little note of her own on the story saying what my grandmother used to say to her: ‘The more fun and happiness you have in life, the more wrinkles you’ll have, which will show the joy in life.’ I don’t want my wrinkles to go, because it took me a lifetime to get them, and a lifetime to get all the happiness and joy that I have.”

The chef pauses as she reflects on the women in her life. “I think it’s a better journey to be happy. Of course, not every day is pure joy, but you can find a little bit of happiness in what you do all day long. That’s the key. My brother died from a mole on his back that wasn’t treated, and it attacked his lymph nodes. I see a dermatologist several times a year for a full body check, but more importantly, his death made me realize that I’ve got to live this life to the fullest because it can end at any point in time.”

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The Simple Things

De Laurentiis sees that simple life’s pleasures bring her happiness on a regular basis. While in front of the camera she is perfectly coiffed, at home her choice of attire is more likely jeans and a t-shirt. She also keeps her entertainment low key, and prefers to hang out at home with her seven-year-old daughter Jade. “Jade and I love to sit on the couch with a bowl of popcorn and watch movies,” says De Laurentiis. “It’s a very precious time.”

She also admits to snacking on chocolate. “I’m a reformed chocoholic,” says De Laurentiis. “I used to eat so much chocolate and sugar that I lived on it,” she confesses. “Now I’ve cut down on my chocolate intake, but not to the extent that I don’t have it anymore. It makes me happy.”

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Connecting to Life

De Laurentiis starts her days early with a 5:30 a.m. wake up. “I shower, have my coffee, and then get Jade up. We have breakfast and I take her to school,” says the busy mom. Breakfast for mom is usually hot oatmeal with olive oil and salt, or hot brown rice with olive oil and salt. “Then it’s yoga time right after I get back home.”

Taking time to relax and stretch and strengthen her body helps De Laurentiis manage her busy life. She also engages in regular acupuncture, massage, chiropractic work and long walks on the beach. “I try to meditate too, but it’s the hardest thing for me to shut my mind off and just relax. I feel my mind gets the better of me most of the time,” she laughs. “My busy mind has also allowed me to have the career I have because my mind creates recipes so I don’t want to shut it off too much.”

Her spiritual connection to Italy also helps add to her calmness while, ironically, also rejuvenating and energizing her body. “I was shooting a show in Italy and when I came back, I felt so rejuvenated,” says De Laurentiis. “It’s the feeling you get when you’re starving, and then your have this great meal and feel so fulfilled and energetic. A trip to Italy helps stabilize me. I don’t know if it’s because my mom is there, or because that’s where I’m from, or the food, or the inspiration of the lifestyle. It’s a spiritual connection that I never thought about until five years ago.”