TV: Whole Lotta Giada

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La Giada - Please don't look down her shirt!There is one favorite pastime among my circle of friends that seems to come up consistently when we know we need a good laugh: imitations of Giada De Laurentiis. How it’s done? We shake out our hair, pull down the front of whatever shirt we’re wearing, and instantly work our way into the vocal cadence and pronunciation of La Giada. You know, complex Italian food word, followed by two words of description…

“No no no – it’s “spa GHEE TEEE” spaGHEETEE – tender and light…”

“Ah mah RAY tee – crunchy and sweet…”

“PAY korEEN oh – mild and flavorful…”

With this pronunciation, we add the distincting hand gesture of the finger-tips coming together and pointing upwards with emphaisis...you know what I mean.

When we’re really having fun, we go for the imitations of “Giada tasting food” which includes taking the absolutely most miniscule taste of whatever foodstuff she slavishly spent an episode creating, feigning the orgasm of a lifetime at the taste, and then listing the layers of flavor discernible on the palette for the viewers at home…

“UUUHmmmmh!!! Ohhhhh! Ummpfffh!…. … I can taste the dry white wine in the sauce, the brightness of the fresh herbs, and the salty essence of the ocean from the scallops…” Give us another eye-rolling “uuummmh-oooohhhhh”, a huge toothy smile for the camera, and then dive in for second bite with a shrug of naughty decadence.

Is anyone believing any of this?

The one thing you can’t do when imitating Giada is the soft-porn aspect of Giada in the kitchen. Never mind that the hair is flowing and that the woman has the most-perfect French manicure that ever chopped garlic, but it’s the shots of the bra cups runneth over into the kettle of sauce that are priceless.

Giada De Laurentiis is a very attractive woman; petite, stylish, and a beauty in the classic Roman way, one can certainly see the extension of the De Laurentiis movie-making glamour in this girl. However it is this very “Italian” voluptuousness that is so played-up by her producers that I venture that it has become a detriment to her talent. When one says “Giada” the next says “Boobs.” Freud? Pavlov? I’m not sure, but it’s a conditioned reaction of the most primal kind.

My friend Kat told me a little story about her sister bringing home Giada’s Everyday Italian cookbook. Her sister had left the book out, and her daughter (5) and son (3) were looking at the cover…

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Giada's "Everyday Italian"Daughter: “Mommy – you told me her name, but it’s a hard word – how do I say it again?”

Mom: “You’re right it is a hard word. Her name is Giada… Gee AH DAH”

Son: ...says something incomprehensible

Mom: “What did you say? I couldn’t hear you…”

Son: (with a shit-eating grin) “I like her boobies…”

In the interest of full disclosure, I should admit that were I to be offered a show on the Food Network, the producers would most likely take one look at my own bustline and determine that this would be my best selling-point in production. So, with this in mind, I am in full support of women on television utilizing their natural assets to best advantage, however, enough is enough. It’s fairly clear to everyone by now that Giada’s producers are milking the cleavage for everything it’s worth. In fact, I found this hilarious post on the blog Foodie NYC about being Giada’s cleavage stylist. Apparently no one is fooled by Food TV’s efforts at soft-porn styling all of Giada’s shows. Hello? The whole point of soft-porn is to make things desirable in a subvert, smoke-and-mirrors, sort of way – not to put it right out there in front of you in overwhelmingly clear messaging. The key to soft-porn marketing is the “partial extreme close-up” – like those used by Apple, or Mercedes, or Budweiser Select. Mystery is the whole point; you don’t know what it is really, but it’s shiny, luscious, exciting, and you have to have it. There isn’t a lot of mystery inherent in Giada’s low-cut tops.

Even the great Anthony Bourdain mentioned this in a recent guest-post on Rhulman.com. The entire post is ruthlessly direct and side-splitting in the best Bourdain way, as it pointedly breaks down the daily lobotomy that is the Food Network. I highly recommend the full read, but here’s what he said about our girl G…

“What’s going on here!? Giada can actually cook! She was robbed in her bout versus Rachael Ray on ICA. ROBBED! And Food Net seems more interested in her enormous head (big head equals big ratings. Really!) and her cleavage--than the fact that she’s likeable, knows what she’s doing in an Italian kitchen--and makes food you’d actually want to eat. The new high concept Weekend Getaway show is a horrible, tired re-cap of the cheap-ass “Best Of” and “40 Dollar a Day” formula. Send host to empty restaurant. Watch them make crappy food for her. Have her take a few lonely, awkward stabs at the plate, then feign enjoyment with appropriately orgasmic eye-closing and moaning..Before spitting it out and rushing to the trailer. Send her to Italy and let her cook. She’s good at it.”

Bourdain knows a thing or two as we all know, and in this he is absolutely right. Giada has talent. She’s a fantastic cook, and I admire her pared-down kitchen essentials that rely on fresh ingredients and the layering of flavors. She’s classically trained, creative, charming, and loves building on her heritage to develop her own modern culinary signatures. This past January, Time Magazine offered a concise interview with the cooking star which I found admirable and honest. There is nothing to dislike about La Giada, yet why does she prompt such mocking hilarity from viewers like me and my friends?

The answer lies in the nature of food television in the new millenium overall, specifically the shows on the Food Network. There are two types of people who watch the Food Network: people who cook, and people who don't. It's universally appealing, and this is where the network is faltering. Their shows and personalities are entirely formulaic, leaving classic and modern successes in food television (Great Chefs, The Frugal Gourmet, Julia Child, Jaime Oliver, Gordon Ramsey, Two Fat Ladies...etc,) by the wayside for no viable reason. With the exception of the always entertaining Alton Brown (Feasting on Asphalt is a joy!) and practical Ina Garten, the Food Network makes one want to park it on the couch with a fistful of valium and drool the afternoon away. They've invested too much in the tagline "Much more than cooking..." - it's true, it's everything BUT cooking. It's background noise.

Food television should inspire, motivate, and teach-to-the-top. The Food Network is all about the lowest common denominator. The only thing remotely inspiring about the Food Network is Paula Deen's annoyingly-twangy absolution for using pounds of butter, breading, and lard. Even still, there is no way in hell I'm ever going to assemble a slop of bananas and cream and call it a guest-appropriate desert. If this is supposed to be the kind of dish that exemplifies the generosity of the modern hostess, then I'm afraid American hospitality may be seeing a decline. There's nothing elegant about bananas-and-cream - I don't care what they say south of the Mason-Dixon.

Giada De Laurentiis is beautiful, appealing, and popular from coast-to-coast. She's basically Italian royalty, but she's also very much the California girl. What could possibly be wrong with this package? Nothing. And the Food Network knows it. In order to maximize this money-making appeal, they have her lined up with newer, dumber shows, and an exclusive marketing campaign. Giada is a winning brand, and her bosses are working her. She's clearly being groomed to be the next lifestyle brand-product pushing machine: A few more dumb shows, a few more books, a restaurant in the latest Vegas hotel, a line of K-Mart products, and a magazine. It's so boring it gives me swift pain.

I sincerely hope that Giada De Laurentiis finds a way to the exciting future in food programming that is surely ahead of her, at least if she's ballsy enough to get out of her current contract. I envision her own production company, better cookbooks, bigger projects, a home-studio in Italy, and the list goes on. Imitation is the highest form of flattery, so when my friends and I imitate Giada we don't make fun of her, rather the formula she has become. We know there's something talented underneath the curls and low-cut tops...there's the TV star we all want to be: young, talented, and having fun.

How to Host a Happy Hour

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HOORAY! It’s Friday. The gang is coming over for cocktails after work to help me celebrate the P&C launch. Am I worried? Not at all. I’ve done this before, and it’s very easy. I know those magazines like InStyle try to encourage the hostess in everyone, but they make it so complicated! I’m here to break it down for you, impart my happy hour knowledge, and show you the brighter side of a simple get-together. With this advice in the pocket of your Sevens, everyone will wonder how you’re so relaxed, collected, and full-of-fun!

First of all, the word “Happy” is in the title of this event, so that is the very mood you are trying to create by hosting your friends for cocktails. You should be the root of the “happy,” happy to be around people you dig, happy to have them in your home, happy that it’s finally time for a Friday cocktail. The other word in the title is “Hour” – 60 minutes, maybe 90 or 120 if you stretch it into another round or two, but it’s really not that long! This is an event for minimal fuss, stress, and even effort if you follow a few guidelines…

  1. Clean Up – Okay, you don’t need to do a white-glove check on all of your surfaces, but do a quick sweep of the kitchen floor and clear the counters of clutter. Make the bed (if you can remember how,) and run the vacuum, but don’t worry too much. Approach this like a triage unit with your highest priority on the bathroom – this is where you absolutely must have a spit-shine. Make it sparkle, and make sure there’s TP and soap. (I know it’s obvious, but you wouldn’t want to overlook it.)
  2. Be On Time – Happy Hour should not start any later than 6:30 or 7PM (if it’s in your home.) You should be coiffed, lipsticked, and rouged by this time. You can put out chips and light candles, etc., while you wait for your fashionably-late friends. The hostess is never fashionably late.
  3. Be Classy – Show your worldly insouciance by putting out a few books or magazines that will be conversation-worthy once people arrive. Nothing pretentious (hide your Paris Review archive,) but a mix current and classic tomes. Vanity Fair, bien sur, WWD Scoop, Blahnik by Bowman, and Michael Roberts’ monograph are all cultured, but not-so-serious choices that I currently have on the coffee table. If you’re a lit-head, don’t be too intimidating…Hey, who put that copy of War and Peace over there?
  4. Be Classy Part II – Be a good host. My mother sometimes asks me: “do you need hostess towels?” And I never say yes, but then I find that I need them. Hostess towels are those artistically adorned rectangular paper towels that you put out in the bathroom for when people wash their hands. In vintage stores you may find some that are fabric with some fun embroidery, but these generally come out around Christmastime. Go with the hostess towels. I know this is a bit adult of me, but do you really want people wiping their hands where you wipe your face? If you don’t have any, simply put out some dinner napkins, but hang them up on the towel bar so people will know they’re supposed to use them.
  5. Be Classy Part III – Ixnay on the lasticpay. This is Happy Hour, not a barbecue with kegs. Leave the plastic cups and paper plates in their bags for another time. In these modern times, you can buy a cocktail glass for $2.00 at Cost Plus World Market. Do so. Happy Hours don’t generally involve more food than a few nibbles, so don’t even put out plates – if you do, put out real ones. I have my grandma’s china cake plates which I love, and you could find your own set of inexpensive china at Goodwill or the same vintage store where you’re going to buy your hostess towels. Paper cocktail napkins are of course, completely fine and can be great fun if you find some odd ones.
  6. Keep it Simple – If you sent out an email stating “cocktails” then that’s what you do. Don’t worry about buying up all kinds of beer, wine, & champagne. Folks will know what to expect. As a non-alcoholic option, go with San Pellegrino. If you’re uncertain of your mixing abilities (I know, people get snobbish about shaking up cocktails, but puhleeze,) then make them ahead and have them ready when people arrive. I have done this many times and found that guests are relieved – they see a big pitcher of a ready-made libation and they know they don’t need to think about it, just grab a glass and drink. If you are mixing, don’t do anything exotic like mojitos or sidecars. Leave the mottled mint to the experts and just go with martinis, or something equally minimal – they get the job done.
  7. Finishing Touches – Light a candle. Or ten. We all love flowers, but they’re pricey. I recommend investing in an orchid or a potted flower (big, pink hydrangeas at Whole Foods are $16.99) that will last you a month or two. Fridays are a good flower day though, since many vendors slash their prices. One near my office sells them for $1.00 a stem and blows out two-dozen roses for only $8.99. Treat yourself if you like – it’s Friday. Put on music – like your reading choices it should be a mix of current and classic. The new Jurassic 5 album is fantastic, but since it’s a sunny day I may choose the tropics of Bossa Nova and go with Elis Regina and Toots Thielemans’ Aquarela do Brasil – one of my favorites.
  8. Enjoy Yourself – It’s your house, your friends, your booze. Enjoy it! Don’t worry about the dishes, and don’t start to *do* dishes while your guests are still there. After an hour or two, everyone will want dinner, so leave the glasses and go eat. Happy Hour is now Friday night, is now the Weekend…go big.