Giada De Laurentiis

Healthy Cooking With Emmy-Winning Celebrity Chef


March 2015

By Shane Digiorgio

Emmy Award-winning celebrity chef Giada De Laurentiis is a child of both Hollywood and of a rich ethnic heritage. She is the granddaughter of the prolific movie producer Dino De Laurentiis, who over a 60-year career produced gritty dramas including “Serpico” and “Three Days of the Condor” as well as science fiction classics such as “Barbarella” and “Dune.”

Dino De Laurentiis, the son of a pasta maker, owned a Beverly Hills restaurant, DDL Foodshow, in which his granddaughter spent a great deal of time. And Giada was born in Rome into a large Italian family, where the culture of food was strong.

But it is neither Hollywood nor her famous grandfather nor her ethnic heritage that have Giada De Laurentiis’ fans most curious. The question the Food Network star is asked most: How does she stay so trim and fit?

Yet it is both in Hollywood and Giada’s Italian heritage where you can find some of the answers to the questions about her slim waistline. The Mediterranean diet, famous for its health benefits, includes cuisine from the entire Mediterranean basin, including southern Italy. De Laurentiis, now 44, already had tomato sauce running through her veins when she began her culinary career with professional training at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. After returning to Los Angeles, her training continued with positions at the prestigious Ritz Carlton Fine Dining Room and Wolfgang Puck’s Spago in Beverly Hills.

Through Spago, Puck is widely credited as the first celebrity chef to introduce to the public California cuisine, a fusion of different styles of cooking that embraces the use of fresh, locally sourced ingredients usually associated with healthful cooking, and the experience almost certainly shaped De Laurentiis’ cooking approach. After working at the Ritz Carlton and Spago, De Laurentiis founded her own catering company, GDL Foods, a Los Angeles catering company, before being discovered by the Food Network.

Her Food Network show, “Everyday Italian,” featuring quick and healthful Italian dishes, brought her an Emmy and immense popularity, which grew with the success of her cookbooks, kitchen products and brand alliances, as well as a recurring role on the “Today Show,” all of which have kept her highly mobile. In 2012, De Laurentiis told the Houston Chronicle how she keeps healthy on the road.

“Believe it or not, unless it’s a really long flight, I don’t eat on planes,” she told the newspaper. “I’m the best customer because I never bother them for anything but water. I do bring snacks, though. Almonds—raw almonds—are always with me. They provide crunch and energy. And popcorn. And I drink tons of water. Sometimes I bring apples and bananas. I also do a mix of brown rice and lentils with a light vinaigrette.”

Concerned that airline meals have too much fat and sodium (an apparent trick that makes the food taste better because taste buds get dulled at high altitudes), De Laurentiis tries to eat before getting on a plane, she says in her latest book, Giada’s Feel Good Food: My Healthy Recipes and Secrets (Clarkson Potter). If the terminal has a Starbucks, she orders oatmeal with hot water, and then adds her own olive oil from a packet and a little salt. That, along with her almonds, holds her over until she lands.

Another favorite traveling companion for De Laurentiis, especially if eating the way she wants is a challenge: smoothies, which help her fight jet lag and return to her routine even on the road, she says in Giada’s Feel Good Food.

De Laurentiis eschews diets, saying they are difficult to stick to and encourage a feeling of deprivation, which, in turn, results in roller-coaster weight loss and gain along with accompanying mood swings.

De Laurentiis insists her book is not a diet tome. Although she doesn’t count calories or carbs, she provides a nutritional breakdown for each recipe in the book—which includes vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free and dairy-free recipes—because she knows that helps some people.

Her dismissal of diets and deprivation is a mark of De Laurentiis’ determination to live life passionately, a vow she made after her brother Dino died 12 years ago from melanoma at age 31. She told the San Francisco Chronicle in 2012 that she swore
she would do everything on her bucket list, which included seeing her books climb The New York Times bestseller list.

“He didn’t get that chance,” De Laurentiis said. “He used to wear this baseball cap from the company Life Is Good. At his memorial we handed out Life Is Good baseball hats as a reminder to never forget that we are on this planet, we are healthy, and we should be enjoying ourselves. Life is fleeting and you don’t know when it’s over and you should really live it up and enjoy every moment.”

Everything in Moderation

In Giada’s Feel Good Food, the celebrity chef acknowledges that her No. 1 philosophy about food took her a long time to develop, even though it is relatively simple: “Eat a little of everything, but not a lot of anything.” In other words, deprive yourself of something, and you’ll just develop a gnawing craving for it; eat too much of something, and you’ll lose your appreciation for it. Bottom line: It’s all about portion control.

To make sure she keeps her portions in check at restaurants, De Laurentiis orders two appetizers because restaurant entrees are too big. If the appetizer choices are weak, she asks her server to divide an entrée, eats half at the restaurant and saves the rest for another time. And because salads have too much dressing, she always asks for dressing on the side or asks for a little olive oil and some lemon wedges to dress the salad herself.

As she says in Giada’s Feel Good Food, De Laurentiis tends to favor whole grains and keeps her wheat consumption in check. She also keeps tabs on how much meat, fat and salt she eats, a practice that has helped her discover whole grains including quinoa, hominy and kamut. She’s replaced foods high on the glycemic index, meaning foods high in refined sugar and refined complex carbohydrates, with foods with less sugar and more fiber, boosting her energy levels.

Discarding the old rule about not snacking during the day, De Laurentiis eats five smaller meals during the day. She embraces the practice for how it maintains metabolism and avoids the extreme feelings of being starved or too full, and Giada’s Feel Good Food includes “grab-and-go” snack recipes like popcorn with herbes de provence and smoked sea salt, smoked almonds and crispy chickpeas.

“Vegetables, legumes and fruits—all packed with fiber—make up the majority of what I eat,” De Laurentiis writes in Giada’s Feel Good Food. “When I want pasta (which is often!), I usually tend to have it at lunch so I have more time to use its fuel during the day. At dinnertime, I pack in a little more protein to hold me until morning and I always make sure to give myself plenty of time to digest before I go to bed;

I aim for three hours or so before falling asleep.”

It’s no surprise that, like her feelings about diets, the chef disdains being tethered to a treadmill in a gym, and favors walks along the beach and morning yoga instead. De Laurentiis also paddleboards on the ocean, a practice that she finds strengthens her core. Though she acknowledges that exercise keeps your energy flowing and the blood circulating—“it stokes your inner fire,” is how she puts it in Giada’s Feel Good Food—she writes that “I truly believe that great health starts with what you put in your mouth.”

De Laurentiis’ approach to healthy eating is fully on display at her signature restaurant, Giada, which opened last year at The Cromwell Las Vegas in the center of the Strip. The Giada menu blends the Italian recipes reflecting the heritage of the restaurant’s namesake with the California influences of her adopted Los Angeles home. Dishes like lemon spaghetti, marsala herb chicken meatballs and vegetable Bolognese rigatoni all feature a light touch. A salmon entrée, moist and flavorful, we tried was cooked to perfection. Posters of movies produced by the restaurateur’s famous grandfather adorn the walls, as do Italian tiles, books and other items Giada De Laurentiis picked up on her world travels.

Careful Skin Care

Her frequent travels, coupled with genetics, tend to make De Laurentiis’ skin dry, so she uses water-based beauty products and “pumping, collagen-based creams” rather than anything alcohol-based.

Healthy skin was an important consideration since she was a teen, she says in Giada’s Feel Good Food, when she learned to remove every last bit of makeup at the end of a day. De Laurentiis says her nighttime beauty routine, like some of her family recipes, was passed down for generations. She flosses and brushes, removes her makeup, exfoliates her face with a mixture of white rice flour and two tablespoons of olive oil, and applies face cream and eye cream. After dinner, she sips a warm cup of chamomile-and-mint tea to help cleanse herself after a full day.

She also emphasizes the need to wear sunscreen, and she wears a 30 SPF on her face, neck and décolletage.

Giada’s Feel Good Food is the tenth book by the prolific De Laurentiis, who has also launched a Recipe for Adventure series of children’s books aimed at taking 7- to 11-year-olds on global culinary explorations much like hers. With all her world travels and business ventures, the celebrity chef needs plenty of energy, which she says she has no shortage of. “I can honestly say that, in my forties,” De Laurentiis writes, “I am healthier than I was in my twenties or thirties.”

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