Dreams do come true. Last week, after standing around a Barnes & Noble for two hours, I finally met the chef, the legend, the obsession. Ladies and gentlemen, I met Giada De Laurentiis.
The star of Food Network’s addictively sexy Everyday Italian and author of a cookbook sharing the same name, Miss De Laurentiis is making the rounds promoting her latest tome, Giada’s Family Dinners. I was on track to make every single recipe from Everyday Italian, her first best-selling cookbook, before real life and, you know, lack of funds got in the way. (All that freshly grated parmesan can really put a dent in your wallet).
Joined by my mom, who also bought Giada’s latest book, and my sweetie, I was armed with copies of both her books as I paced around the B&N, too distracted to actually read anything I was flipping through. We had been given numbered tickets and were told that we would be called in groups of 50 so as to avoid super-long lines. Velvet ropes had been erected in front of the table where she would sign, so anyone wanting to take a picture would have to gather there instead of posing with her behind the table.
As the starting time of 7:30 pm neared, we all gathered around the table. A two-story store, many people were lined up against the railing of the second floor, peering over the open space below for an unobstructed view of their cooking idol.
Giada entered to applause and cheering. Arms with digital and cell phone cameras immediately shot up over the crowd and locked into extended position like members of a cult praising their leader. Giada, dressed in her usual form-fitting Anthropologie top, open button-down sweater, jeans and a necklace, looked as radiant as always. She seemed genuinely surprised to notice all the people on the second floor, pointing and waving and being a good sport to the calls of “Giada! Over here!” and “One more time! Look up one more time!”
She sat in a stool as her assistant and the B&N employees got the book-signing production into gear. Already lined up, the first 50 made their way down the stairs and handed over their books. Giada was warm and friendly, with her enormous smile of endless sparkling teeth (most adults have, what, 20? Giada has about 300, give or take). She cooed at the babies plopped on the table in front of her and even hugged one man. (Sir, if you are reading this, whatever magic words you used to make that happen — “birthday,” “cancer,” etc. — please email them to me for the next time Giada visits Chicago.)
The line moved along quickly and before I knew it, my mom and I finally made our way up (we were a few numbers apart, but I thought it would be cute if an Italian mother and her son approached together). I have to say, I was nervous. What do you say? Do you just dole out the usual “I’m a fan” sentiment and be on your way? Do you try to be memorable? Is that even possible when hundreds of people are flashing before her eyes?
My mom immediately extends her hand for shaking, introduces herself, and asks Giada what her name means. Giada explains that it’s Italian for “jade,” like the stone. My mom and I both comment on how beautiful it is.
Then I mention that I’ve gotten my Italian family to watch her show (which is only a slight stretch of the truth; I’ve gotten some of my family to watch). She literally stops signing and looks up at me with the cutest pout/smile, as if to say “Aw, that is so sweet of you.” Then I tell her that her Chocolate Ameretti Cake is fantastic, and she again stops signing and practically jumps out of her chair, her hand flittering in excitement. Let me break down the rest of the conversation:
Giada: I know! Isn’t that the best? It’s so easy.
Me: Oh my God, it’s so good.
Giada: I know. It’s one of my favorites.
Me: Me, too. I’m converting everyone into fans of it. (again, erring on the side of “truthiness,” but still pretty accurate)
Giada: Next you should try my Raspberry Tiramisu. (in her new book)
Me: But I haven’t made your Chocolate Tiramisu yet (from her first book) and that’s next on my list.
Giada: Well, once you get tired of that…
Me: Is that even possible? (could I be more charming?)
Giada: Well, if by some chance you get tired of it…
Me: Then I’ll make the Raspberry Tiramisu. (charming AND cooperative)
Giada: You’ll love it.
And now we’re best friends. Or something.
My mom thanked her for coming to Chicago on her book tour and that was it. We walked out into the surprisingly warm April night, books in tow, and we were on our way. I like to think that we walked the line between generic compliments and the entitled, overly-familiar, overly-intimate attitude that some people took with her.
I now have my next culinary assignment, given to me by none other than Giada herself. While it’s not quite raspberry season, if Giada tells me to try it, who am I to refuse?