By Samantha Richards, 15, Sherman Oaks Center for Enriched Studies
Print This Post

Samantha with her cooking idol, Giada De Laurentiis, on the set of her show Everyday Italian.

Photo by Tiffany Grana (family friend)

As a child, I always watched my dad cooking dinner and wondered how he made creative dishes out of plain ingredients. As I got older, I wanted to learn how to make those family recipes my dad had been making for years, like his famous brisket, a tender meat slow-cooked to perfection.

My mom enrolled me in cooking school when I was 12. I learned some of the best techniques for chopping and creating roux (pronounced “rue”), a thickening agent. All I wanted to do after school was cook. I started to watch the Food Network everyday from the time I finished my homework until dinner. I came across Giada De Laurentiis’ show Everyday Italian and was inspired by her charm, passion and her delicious Italian dishes. I have seen every episode from seasons one through eight and have all her cookbooks. Late at night I would sneak into the living room to watch re-runs of Everyday Italian, to try to memorize her recipes and to admire her chopping skills.

My passion for cooking impressed my parents’ friends and they loved the fact that at dinner parties I would make my signature dishes such as rosemary and sage crusted fillet mignon with a cabernet sauvignon reduction, which is a fancy term for a sauce that has been reduced over high heat, and caramelized sweet onions.

When I got a chance to interview her (thanks to a family friend) I was so excited that I counted down the days.

I drove up to this gorgeous house in the Pacific Palisades for the interview, and I felt like all of the butterflies in the world were flying around my stomach. Giada’s assistant introduced me to workers on the set and showed me the prep kitchen, where all of the food on the show is prepared before hand, which was set up in the garage. I felt like I was stepping into some kind of haven—stainless steel pots and pans hanging from the racks, all sorts of spatulas and knives gracing the kitchen counters. Giada walked out and said, “You must be Sammie.” I was shocked that she knew my name.

She asked what kind of food I liked the most and of course instantaneously I said, “Italian.” I told her that I loved pasta sauces and lemon tarts with pine nuts and cannolis with chocolate mousse.

During the interview she sat, feet up on the chair, and talked to me like we were friends. I felt slightly embarrassed that I was telling her that she got me interested in cooking. When I had rehearsed the interview in my head, I had all of my questions planned. However, I forgot all of my rehearsed questions and our conversation became real, just two food lovers talking about their favorite topic.

L.A. Youth: How did you first get interested in cooking?
Giada De Laurentiis: Well, I started cooking when I was about 5 and in an Italian family, you just do that, it’s just a part of our everyday culture. And then when I was about 12, my grandfather started a gourmet shop called DDL Foods and he brought in chefs from Naples, where he’s from. You could get great Italian products, fresh pizzas, olive oils, food to go … and upstairs he had a small restaurant. I used to go there after school and I just fell in love with it.

Why do you think it’s important that teenagers and younger generations learn to cook?
You, know I think what it does is create some kind of tradition for children because I think a lot of times parents are so busy. And when they grow up, they don’t have those memories to hold onto. Also … you learn about your body. As a society, we eat a lot of junk food and the only reason we do is because we don’t know what else to eat. And there are great, healthy products out there on the market these days that you can actually whip up a healthy but delicious meal, and I think that’s what my job is.

What do you think teens should get out of learning to cook, besides learning about their bodies and proper nutrition?
The ability to be comfortable in the kitchen, the ability to have fun. I think for a long time, when you’re growing up, when your mom is in the kitchen we think to leave her alone. Most kids think cooking in the kitchen is boring and we are trying to show them that it’s not boring … it’s fantastic.

If a teen were interested in exploring a career in the food industry, what advice would you give them?
I think that the first thing they should do is cook at home and really understand the ingredients and see how easy and accessible it is. And then I would say go work with food somewhere, either in a deli preparing sandwiches or do part-time in a restaurant, a neighborhood restaurant. I’m talking about your neighborhood favorites, where you love a couple dishes and are wondering, “I wonder how they make that.” Spend some time in the kitchen, hang out with those people. So get your hands dirty and have a good time.

What was the first meal or recipe that you ever made?
Pizza dough is the first thing I ever made! I think probably because it didn’t involve knives, pots and pans, so pizza dough and then fresh pasta dough.

What is your favorite dish to make?

Oh, anything with chocolate. The minute something involves chocolate or something sweet, I light up. You know, when I went to cooking school in Paris, I decided that because I love sugar so much, why don’t I just be with sugar all day? My parents said, “You know you live in Los Angeles, desserts aren’t really part of the culture, like in Italy, so learn to do everything.” And lo and behold I didn’t do it. I learned everything. But I try and sneak desserts into the show, and show people it’s not just the French that have great desserts, but so do the Italians.

What is it like doing a TV show?
My first couple of seasons were very, very rough. I think that because cooking Italian food with Italian products was so normal for me, I just thought that everyone knew about them. It was difficult when someone said to me, “Why are you adding that ingredient?” And I just make my tomato sauce like that, I just do. I don’t know why I’m adding this. I learned this recipe when I was 5 and that’s what my parents made us. So I think that that was really the hardest thing … explaining things.
    Also opening yourself up, feeling a connection is very difficult. There are 10 people max downstairs. Do they really pay attention? My director does but everyone else is flipping magazines. So it’s not like what Emeril does, where it’s live and he gets something back from the audience, I got a black hole that I‘m looking at all day. The camera is a black hole. It’s like looking at yourself in the mirror all day long and talking to yourself. Its kinda weird, if you’re not used to it its really uncomfortable. At first, they would put pictures of my husband on top of the camera and I was like, “I’m not talking to him!” It took me three seasons to get comfortable

Other stories by this writer …

HPV vaccine: a shot of prevention. Samantha, 15, is glad she got the new shots that protect girls from getting cervical cancer. (May – June 2007)