Giada De Laurentiis' name is synonymous with Italian food, but there's one Italian staple that she rarely ever cooks — except on Valentine's Day. "I do not make ravioli regularly ever," she tells Wonderwall.com, but on Feb. 14, that's always on the menu at home.
The Food Network chef is obviously a wiz in the kitchen and well-known all over the world thanks to her television appearances and cookbooks. But Giada's name is also quickly becoming synonymous with Las Vegas, where she now has two restaurants. On Feb. 10, Giada opened Pronto at Caesars Palace, a fast-casual approach to her food, a contrast from her hugely popular GIADA restaurant across the Las Vegas Strip at The Cromwell, which is certainly more of a fine-dining experience.
Wonderwall.com sat down with the acclaimed chef at the opening of Pronto to chat about Italian food, food trends, her secret one-person focus group (spoiler: it's her daughter) and even how to pull off a Giada-inspired Valentine's Day.
Q: GIADA has obviously been a huge hit. What makes you want to gamble on a second Vegas restaurant?
A: I wanted to open something that was a little more casual. Listen, I know that people come here for fine dining and to watch entertainment and all that, but a lot of people would just come to see the space in the Cromwell and say, "Oh, I can't afford to eat here, but I wanted to see the space." I was thinking, I need to figure out a way to introduce my brand at a lower price point. I wanted to do something that was more of an introductory to Italian food, like what you'd find at an Italian mini bar, with sandwiches piled high. You press them and everything is fast. When people think of quick serve, I don't think they think of Italian. They don't do it a lot in this country, but they do it really well in Italy. That was sort of the inspiration behind it.
Q: You have a 9-year-old daughter, Jade. Do you do the fine dining thing for her at home or take more of a casual approach?
A: I cook both for her. I just don't do the presentation and twirl the spaghetti so high, and I don't worry so much about the decor of the plate like I do at my restaurants. But I cook both of these things for her. Jade gets a little taste of everything at the end of the day. She actually gives me really good feedback. She was telling me what she liked about this place yesterday. She was working the stations. It's interesting how simplistic children can be if you really listen — it helps simplify things.
Q: What food trends are you loving and hating right now?
A: I will say that our No. 1 sandwich right now is the turkey, bacon and avocado. I feel like avocado-anything will sell like hotcakes, so I love it and I hate it all in one. I love avocado, but I feel like it's become the kale. Remember when kale was everywhere? It's the same. Anything with avocado these days sells. It's kind of like chocolate, although I love chocolate. So yeah, I think I have a love/hate with avocado right now.
Q: Valentine's Day is days away. Give us Giada's guide to V-Day…
A: I do the same Valentine [meal] every year. I do heart-shaped ravioli. I buy wonton wrappers so I don't have to make the pasta dough. I fill them with mixed cheese, usually ricotta and mozzarella or whatever. I don't put green in there because my daughter doesn't like it, otherwise you can put herbs or spinach in there. I do a plain tomato basil pomodoro [sauce]. I lay the pomodoro down first and I put the heart-shaped ravioli on top of it. I don't know why [but when] I think of Valentine's and romance, I think of ravioli. To me, they're light, but they're sexy and very romantic. But the wonton wrappers make them super-simple. I start with that and then usually I'll do a little filet in advance, and I slice it really thin and put it on crostini with a little aioli. And then something chocolate at the end.
Q: Does Jade look forward to it every year?
A: Jade has started to look forward to it now that she's 9. When she was younger she was like, "I want regular pasta with butter." Now she likes it.
Q: You're famous for the way you pronounce a lot of Italian words. Does it get annoying when people ask you to say spaghetti, for instance?
A: You mean, fluent in Giada! All of this stuff is so unplanned. I remember for years that I wanted to teach people the pronunciation of a lot of things because I feel like it's all bastardized. I'd be talking and talking and I'd say spaghetti (she pronounces it "spi-GHEE-tee") or mozzarella (pronounced "muhz-uh-RELL-a") and I think people picked up on it because it's so different. So it became something that people would stop me and tell me, "Say spi-GHEE-tee" for me and I'd say it. At times I'm like, this is embarrassing, and at times I feel like it's really sweet.