In the kitchen: Giada De Laurentis

December 10, 2006

In addition to comics, one of my pop-culture obsessions is cooking programming, good and bad. The Food Network pulls out all the stops during the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas, so I thought I’d take a look at some of their celebrity cooks.

First up is Giada De Laurentis, a California-based personal chef and caterer and host of Everyday Italian. As the show title implies, De Laurentis specializes in casual Italian fare.

Pros:

  • The flavor combinations of her recipes generally sound very appealing, and they run a nice gamut from hearty and comforting to light and refreshing.
  • While none of her recipes demand complicated techniques, they don’t fall into the trap of the intuitively obvious, either. She generally offers interesting twists on familiar favorites.
  • She favors fresh ingredients but isn’t intractable about their superiority. It makes her arguments in favor of them more persuasive because she resists the urge to make you feel like a terrible person for not having an herb garden in your back yard.

Cons:

  • While her shows tend to focus on meal menus, her preparation sequence doesn’t always make sense. She’ll sometimes present meal components in the order in which they’re eaten as opposed to the order they’re most sensibly prepared.
  • I will never understand the Italian fondness for the combination of chocolate and citrus, particularly orange. To my palate, it starts as an unpleasant aftertaste and goes downhill from there.
  • She seems to be sliding into the Rachael Ray slot of “hopelessly overexposed Food Network ingénue.” In addition to Everyday Italian, she hosts Behind the Bash and has a new travel program on the horizon. Given that Ray’s career trajectory has led me to start hating Triscuits, I would rather Food Network put the brakes on the gathering Giada-thon.
  • De Laurentis is an appealing, easygoing presence when she isn’t looking into the camera. When she does go eye-to-eye with it, she bares a terrifying, over-whitened pageant smile that is more menacing than endearing. It may well be genuine, but I find it disconcerting all the same.

Summary:

Of all of the Food Network chefs I follow, De Laurentis offers the largest number of recipes that I actually use. I like her flavor profiles and find the recipes to be clear and usable; they’re also flexible enough to allow for modification and experimentation. Her cuisine isn’t earth-shatteringly innovative, but it isn’t banal either. Just sheathe those choppers.