A Chat with Giada De Laurentiis

The Food Network star and chef dishes about her new children’s book series, Recipe for Adventure

Sep 13, 2013 | By TFK Kid Reporter Amelia Compton
COURTESY COMPTON FAMILY

Giada De Laurentiis with TFK Kid Reporter Amelia Compton

Chef Giada De Laurentiis is cooking up tasty adventures. Her new children’s books take readers on a food tour around the world. The first two books in the Recipe for Adventure series, due out September 3, make stops in Naples, Italy and Paris, France.

In Recipe for Adventure: Naples!, Zia Donatella visits the Bertolizzi family. She is not pleased with the canned and boxed food in the pantry. So she makes a home-cooked meal that transports the Bertolizzi siblings to Naples, Italy. They learn that food and family make a magical recipe.

TFK Kid Reporter Amelia Compton caught up with the Food Network star in Los Angeles, California. De Laurentiis told TFK that she felt lonely as a child after her family immigrated to the United States. She found it hard to make friends at school. Luckily, she had her Aunt Raffi, the inspiration for Zia Donatella, to comfort her. “She would cook for our family and tell great stories,” De Laurentiis told TFK. “I would forget all my troubles.”

Hungry for more? Read the full interview below.

TFK:

What inspired you to write a series of books for kids?

GIADA DE LAURENTIIS: 

I came to the U.S. from Italy when I was 7 years old. I didn't speak any English at all. Nobody really wanted to be friends with me because I was very different. In the late 1970s, it wasn't cool to have a different name or to look different or to eat different foods. My mom would put eggs in leftover pasta, fry it in a pan and cut it up like a pizza. That’s what I took to lunch. She also made chocolate sandwiches with butter. That's what we ate in Italy, but that's not what kids in the U.S. eat. So I was ridiculed and I ate by myself a lot. I needed an escape, and books and storytelling were the escape for me. As I started looking for books for Jade [De Laurentiis’s daughter], I didn't see many about different cultures and different foods. These books, I thought, would give kids an understanding of different people and cultures.

TFK:

Why didn't you set the first book in the series in Rome, where you were born?

DE LAURENTIIS:

I didn't set the first book in Rome because the true inspiration for my love of food is my grandfather, and my grandfather was born in Naples. When my grandfather was a kid, his family had a pasta factory in Naples. He was one of 10 children. They would go door to door selling their family’s pasta and sauces. Although I was born in Rome, I believe the true, rich history of my family started in Naples. I also think Naples has more interesting food.

TFK:

Can you tell me why you based Zia Donatella on your aunt Raffi?

DE LAURENTIIS:

My Aunt Raffi is probably one of the most interesting people I've ever met. She never had children. Her nieces and nephews became her children. She would take us on vacations and she would be the fun mom. She traveled all over the world and when she came back she brought me dolls, spices and recipes. She still does that to this day. Then she'd let me go into the kitchen and turn it upside down. We'd have a blast cooking all sorts of things and tasting. I always said to myself, I want to be just like my Aunt Raffi. I idolize my aunt. She has many qualities that I put into Zia Donatella. It's not exactly my Aunt Raffi. I've changed the character, but Raffi was most definitely the inspiration.

TFK:

Were you at all like Emilia Bertolizzi when you were a kid?

DE LAURENTIIS:

Very much so. She has many of my qualities. I am not spontaneous like my aunt Raffi. I'm a little bit more reserved. I'm a lot more careful. She's a gambler, not literally a gambler, but a gambler in life. She'll just go do things. I think about what I do a lot more. I envy that part of my aunt’s personality. So I think Emilia's a little more like me, a little more controlled whereas her brother in the story is a little more free-spirited.

TFK:

Did you like to try new foods when you were a kid?

DE LAURENTIIS:

Like most children, I went through stages. I liked to try new foods when I was around my grandfather, and when I was around my aunt. When I was around my mom and my dad, not so much! I became pickier, which I think happens to a lot of kids. It’s the same thing with Jade [De Laurentiis’s daughter]. If somebody else introduces a new food to her, it's a little more interesting than if I introduce it to her.

TFK:

Can you talk a bit more about what it was like to move from Rome to the U.S. when you were young?

DE LAURENTIIS:

It was both exciting and scary. I went to kindergarten in New York City where we lived for a while. I remember being terrified when my parents dropped me off. I was terrified because I was in a new place, and because I didn't speak the language. It's not like my family prepped me and had me speak English at home before I went to school. In fact, the minute I came home from school, it was straight Italian all the time. So it was like living two different lives really. We moved to Los Angeles, California when I was in first grade, but things didn't get any better. The teachers kept telling my parents, ‘She needs to speak English at home.’

TFK:

Did your parents speak English?

DE LAURENTIIS:

No, because they didn't want me to lose my Italian heritage or to lose the ability to speak Italian. Now I thank them for making me speak Italian. There are a lot of people who can't speak the language of their heritage. They know nothing about the history. They don't know how to make the food. That’s because a lot of people moved here and said, ‘We want to assimilate, so we'll leave all of that behind.’ My parents were not those people!

TFK:

Why do you think it's important that kids appreciate food and home-cooked meals?

DE LAURENTIIS:

We spend so much time and money on frivolous things that, in the end, don’t matter. Sitting down to a meal is something that my family did a lot. My family worked a lot, and traveled a lot, but the moments that I remember were the ones where we sat down and spent time together. A lot of emotions and a lot of connections happened over that meal. Family meals build memories; they build tradition. That's how we can remember people. My brother died when he was 30. I was only a couple of years older than him. I'm so thankful that we spent all that time together.

TFK:

What do you hope kids will take away from reading your books?

DE LAURENTIIS:

I want kids to see how interesting other countries are. The United States isn’t the only interesting country. There are so many beautiful places with fantastic people who want to share their culture. So I want kids to know what else is out there. I think it’s also important that kids learn about the foods of each culture, because food really does define who we are.

TFK:

If you could be transported to any place in the world, where would you go and what would you eat there?

DE LAURENTIIS:

I love the unknown, so I would go to outer space. I can't even imagine what I would find. I don't know that I would find any food, but who knows? Another place would be Antarctica. I find it fascinating. I think that's what's fun about being a kid. There are so many unknowns. There are so many places to explore.

TFK:

Who is your favorite children's author?

DE LAURENTIIS:

When I was a child, my grandfather was my favorite author although he never wrote a children’s book. I think that a children's author can be defined in many different ways. Sometimes it's not someone who actually wrote a children's book, but it's someone who told you the best stories you'd ever heard. And my grandfather told me the best stories I ever heard. So he is my favorite.