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Giada De Laurentiis @ The Paley Center

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Tuesday night The Paley Center for Media hosted and evening with Giada De Laurentiis. Often you leave events like this thinking, "If only I could have asked a question, if I only I could have met her, if only I could have tried the food I saw prepared onscreen..." Well, the Paley Center granted every wish you could possibly have and more.

The evening began with a preview of her new show, At Home with Giada, a twist on Everyday Italian. The show is largely a result of the birth 7 months ago of her daughter, Jade. She hopes the show will be a breath of fresh air. The large, sunny set allows more freedom of movement than the cramped kitchens of Everyday Italian. Besides a sunnier set, the show also reflects more of her sunny California influences. But none of Giada's charm is lost, whether it is tilting her head thoughtfully before tossing another bunch of salt into the bowl, or her enthusiastic exclamations at the deliciousness of the food. She is natural and unabashed before the cameras. Giada is Giada and you can't help but love her.

The following interview by Barbara Dixon, vice president and director of The Paley Center for Media was indepth, beginning with Giada's childhood in Rome and her difficulties adjusting to the United States before learning to speak English. Her confession to flunking the first grade endeared her to an already admiring audience. Few people know that her grandfather ran a business making pasta before moving to the United States, and Giada describes growing up surrounded by food. But when the time came to choose a career path, she was dissuaded. Her family was concerned that her small stature and gender would make it difficult for her to succeed in a man's world, especially because of the manual labor -- lifting heavy pots all day.

So Giada graduated from UCLA with a degree in Anthropology - with a twist - she studied how food relates to culture. When her family realized she was not going to give up her dream of becoming a pastry chef, they sent her to the Cordon Bleu, insisting, "If you are going to go, go all the way." Again, the language barrier proved difficult for her. But she persevered and returned to work at Spago. The low pay and long hours of restaurant work led her to begin working as a personal chef (Ron Howard was her first client) and open her own catering company. On the side, this energetic overachiever styled food for Food and Wine Magazine.

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The magazine eventually ran a piece featuring her family, which caught the eye of the Food Network and they contacted Giada. It took eight months of talks for her to finally agree to the show Everyday Italian. Finally, her brother (whom she lost 5 years ago) told her, "Just don't tell anybody. Then if they don't like it, nobody will know." He coached her on working with cameras and conquering her shyness. Previously The Food Network rigorously media trained and coached their chefs, but with Giada they decided to try and let the chef's personality shine through. And it shone like a beacon.

She admits the first season's episodes were a little "rough". They had to work 20 hour days to produce a 22 minute show. And yes, the crew gets to eat the leftovers. Giada insisted on staying in Los Angeles although most Food Network shows were being filmed in New York. She felt she needed her real family around her to make it feel "real". In the beginning, the network was heavily involved, even suggesting adjustments to the recipes, but she now enjoys the freedom to do her own thing.

For now, until her daughter is a little older, Weekend Getaways is on hold. But she is still appearing on The Today Show. She has just released her fourth cookbook, Giada's Kitchen. This book not only includes everyday favorites; it also includes many momentary favorites and obsessions, such as artichokes. Giada feels Giada's Kitchen shows her evolution as a cook, reflecting the happy, sunny, and expectant time during which it was written.

The audience was then invited to ask questions. Everything from her favorite local restaurants ( Georgio Baldi and Mozza) to her favorite movies produced by her grandfather (Orca, no, Flash Gordon!) I asked her what her last meal would be, and she said, "Chocolate. Chocolate Tiramisu. Lots and Lots of chocolate."

The evening ended with complimentary copies of Giada's Kitchen, and she sat there and patiently signed every single copy. Meanwhile, there was an open bar and appetizers. These were not just any appetizers; they were the foods we had just watched being prepared in the episode of At Home with Giada. You have not lived until you have tried her cherry mojitos.

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Every week Giada invites you into her kitchen as if you were her friend. During the interview, Q&A and the book signing, she was just as open and trusting. It seems like we are not just a bunch of fans and strangers to her. With Giada, everyone is welcome. Everyone is her friend.


Mel's Diner: Talking Italian With Giada De Laurentiis from Broadcasting & Cable on Vimeo

Video courtesy of Mel's Diner