Giada De Laurentiis is preparing to open her first restaurant inside the upcoming Gansevoort Las Vegas in early 2014.
Fans frequently see beloved chef, author, and Food Network star Giada De Laurentiis’ food, but following her partnership with Caesars Entertainment, they’ll now be able to taste it. The Rome-born and LA-raised Emmy-winning host will be opening her first restaurant inside the new Gansevoort Las Vegas boutique hotel and casino, all coming early 2014.
We sat down with Caesars’ debut female celebrity chef to learn more about her new venture, which will feature California-inspired cuisine that honors Italian traditions (pastas only as appetizers), feminine décor (“like people are coming into my home”), a signature antipasto bar, and an open kitchen, so that—just as her devotees are accustomed to—you’ll be able to watch everything in action.
Tell us about your new restaurant. GIADA DE LAURENTIIS: It’s a very big endeavor for me. [It has] about 330 seats, so it’s rather large for a first restaurant. It has spectacular views of the Bellagio fountains, and Caesars Palace, so at nighttime it’s lit up like a Christmas tree. It’s kind of perfect. I really wanted something that I was going to be able to build from scratch.
How will you keep people coming back? GD: We’re going to create spaces. We have an outside patio area, that’ll be different from the inside. We’ll have rugs, that feel like you’re in somebody’s house, [and] have couches that feel like home. When you first walk in, I’m going to have an antipasto bar. For dinner, I want people to start out with sharing an antipasto platter, so kind of teaching [diners] the traditions of the way we eat in Italy. I’m going to have a pizza oven and a bread oven, and you’ll be able to see the guys making the pizza.
What do you think the experience of watching food prepared adds? GD: I think people are fascinated by watching cooks cook. There’s so much visual stimulation going on. It’s kind of like watching a dance, or a game. So the more connection there is between the patron and the kitchen staff, the more connection there is to the food they’re eating. That’s what I do on my cooking shows, is really try to make it less intimidating, and more welcoming.
What are some of your signature dishes? GD: I think that I’m known for lighter Italian food, with a California flair. My lemon spaghetti is one of my iconic dishes, [as well as] my butternut squash lasagna. I have eggplant rollatini that I make a lot. So I will have those iconic dishes, but I also want to do some traditional stuff that my family’s made, that I can’t really make on my show or in my books, because they’re a little more complicated and they take longer to cook.
Tell us about some of those more traditional items. GD: The homemade pastas are a big part of that: ravioli, tortellini, fresh spaghetti. I don’t usually make fresh pasta on my shows—I don’t even make pizza. Quite frankly, the best pizza comes from a pizza oven, and I don’t have one on my set [because] most people don’t have one at home, so they’re not really going to be able to replicate it to its fullest potential. [With the restaurant’s pizza oven], I can make my grandfather’s traditional Neapolitan pizza. When my grandfather used to have everybody over, the first thing you always had was pizza. That was our appetizer, every single time.
How did your experience in your grandfather’s restaurant inspire you? GD: He opened it when I was 12, and he brought all of his friends from Naples—pizzaiolos, bread makers, pasta makers. He really brought what he grew up with; his parents had a pasta factory. And I fell in love with the energy and the passion that people had when they walked in, and the smiles, and the aromas. I didn’t know I’d be a chef, though. At the time, it was a different job. But I said, ‘I want to be around food, somehow.’ I just didn’t know what the vehicle was going to be.
Who do you look up to in the chef world? GD: I think my biggest mentor is probably Mario Batali, just for the sheer fact that he’s a pretty incredible Italian cook. I envy his keen sense of ingredients. I look for more simplicity in my food, and he is able to really blend together ingredients that I don’t think I could ever put together. He would probably be my biggest competition out there, him and Scott Conant of Scarpetta. Rao’s is there as well.
Is there anything unique you can bring, as a female chef? GD: I definitely can bring some softness. I almost want people to feel like when they walk into my restaurant, they’re getting a big hug from me, whether I’m there or not. I truly believe, just like with my shows and my books and everything else that I do, it will be a heartwarming, really fun, delicious experience.