Among the favorite memories of growing up for Giada de Laurentiis is spending Sundays cooking with her grandparents. As they cooked, her grandfather would tell stories about the adventures he had as one of 10 children growing up in pre-World War II Naples where his parents owned a pasta factory.
“He would tell us about these awesome adventures he had as he went to sell his parent’s pasta sauces,” said de Laurentiis, host of “Giada at Home” on the Food Network channel and author of such best selling cookbooks as Giada at Home and Weeknights With Giada. “I just remember as a child fantasizing and imagining going on these trips as he told his stories.”
It was while retelling her grandfather’s tales to her 5-year-old daughter Jade that de Laurentiis came up with the idea of creating a series of children’s books called Recipe for Adventure.
Designed for ages 7 to 10, de Laurentiis, who was born in Rome and whose, not only used her experiences making foods such as Neapolitan style pizza with her grandfather, film producer Dino De Laurentiis, but also hearing the wonderful anecdotes about travel and food shared by her Aunt Raffy, the actress Raffaella De Laurentiis, as her inspiration.
Each of her books focuses on a city known for its culinary distinction and follows Zia Donatella (think Aunt Raffy) who has come to live with the Bertolizzi family including the two Bertolizzi children, Emilia (de Laurentiis) and her younger brother Alfie -- based on Dino de Laurentiis, Giada’s younger brother who died of melanoma a decade ago. Zia, a big proponent of eschewing take-out and instead cooking at home, sets out to prove this by transporting the children to such cities as Naples and Paris.
"In my Italian family, there has always been a passion for fresh food and for tradition,” said de Laurentiis, who attended the Le Cordon Bleu cooking school in Paris, worked at Wolfgang Puck’s Spago in Los Angeles and started her own catering company before embarking on her TV chef career, “and the value that's put on cooking and how that brings a family together.”
For de Laurentiis, great food and glorious cities are magic and so, with a bit of zeppole (a deep fried dough often filled with custard that’s popular in Naples and Rome) followed by a taste of creamy hot chocolate as a type of edible pixie dust, the children are magically conveyed to their culinary destinations.
“I think it’s a really fun way for kids, adults – who ever – to be transported into another world and to learn a little bit about how the food of that place defines and makes us who we are,” said de Laurentiis who is always passionate when talking about food.
It’s this enthusiasm that propelled de Laurentiis into fame. A winner of the Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lifestyle Host, de Laurentiis also appears regularly as a contributor and guest co-host on NBC's Today Show and last year was inducted into the Culinary Hall of Fame. She also serves as the celebrity Ambassador for the international relief organization Oxfam America, focusing her efforts with Oxfam on bringing attention to the 925 million people around the world who are chronically hungry.
The first two books, "Recipe for Adventure: Naples" and "Recipe for Adventure: Paris" will be released on Sept. 10. Coming up are adventures in Hong Kong and New Orleans with more sure to follow. Recipe cards in the back of each book are for some of the dishes mentioned in the books such as Zia’s Tomato Basil Pizza and Zia’s Hot Chocolate.
“This isn’t a cookbook,” de Laurentiis cautioned. “It’s an actual story book. It’s a passion project. I’ve been reading it to Jade, and it’s been a blast.”