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Giada De Laurentiis is known for her light and streamlined versions of classic Italian dishes, and summer is when her simple, delicious recipes shine. The granddaughter of legendary movie producer Dino De Laurentiis, Giada's culinary influences come from both sides of the Atlantic. She was born in Rome in 1970 but raised in Los Angeles. De Laurentiis, 37, got her introduction to fine food at home, then honed her skills by training at Le Cordon Bleu, the famed Parisian cooking school, and working in top Los Angeles restaurants. Clearly, cooking for -- and with -- family remains one of the most important facets of her life.
Ladies' Home Journal: Is food central to your family?
Giada De Laurentiis: Anything that's really important to us happens in the kitchen or over a meal. I fell in love with cooking because it's such a big part of our life. There's a lot of laughter, storytelling, and sharing of creative ideas for dishes. And believe me, when we're together, it can get pretty loud!
LHJ: Who cooks when you all assemble for a meal?
GD: Me, my Aunt Raffy, and my grandfather. My grandfather gave me a passion for food, and my aunt taught me to be creative. They -- and my mother, who put healthy, delicious meals on the table for four children -- made me the person I am today.
LHJ: Tradition is certainly the basis of your cooking. But what about innovation? Has anyone ever said, "You can't do that with food"?
GD: What gets my grandfather more than anything is using ingredients -- like tomatoes -- from a jar or can. He thinks everything should be made from scratch using fresh ingredients. He's 88 and the product of a very different world, one in which his mom did cook that way. I tell him no one's going to make Italian food at home if I don't occasionally give them the option to use canned tomatoes.
LHJ: Is this a good time of year to think about eating healthy food?
GD: The warm weather and beautiful ingredients naturally inspire people. Everything tastes so much better, and you want to experience that, rather than smother fruits and vegetables with sauces. As a result, you can put together a fantastic meal in no time. Grilling -- which is quick and easy -- is also a big part of that.
LHJ: Your food is so pretty and bright -- it seems to go with summer.
GD: You eat with your eyes first. If a dish is colorful, you want to dig in. I'm aware of this when cooking on television, because viewers can't smell, taste, or touch anything.
LHJ: How do you decorate your outdoor table?
GD: My house is by the beach, so that's what inspires me. I often collect seashells and rocks and I'll mix them on the table with candles in brass holders. Rather than flowers I would display little herb plants in pots.
LHJ: And when you entertain, you're wearing your necklaces? They're your signature, after all.
GD: They never come off. People say they recognize me by them.
LHJ: Are they available in stores?
GD: No. My husband, Todd Thompson, had them made for me. But if someone likes the look, it's possible to buy jewelry that's called "by the yard." Diamonds by the yard and so on.
LHJ: Your television work is certainly keeping you busy.
GD: And my books [available at www.giadadelaurentiis.com]. My third one, Everyday Pasta, came out this past spring, and I'm going to begin planning one that will be published in September 2008. But yes, I'll be doing more for Today, I'm continuing to shoot Giada's Weekend Getaways -- I just did a New Orleans episode -- and I have done a series called Giada in Paradise, in which I go with my extended family to Capri and then with my husband to Santorini, Greece. Everyday Italian is ongoing as well, with 20 new episodes in the works.
LHJ: When will you have time to start your own family?
GD: In the next several months hopefully things will level off, and my husband, who is a clothing designer for the store Anthropologie, and I might start working on that. We'd like that.
Ina Garten is very clear about what she most loves to do. "People have asked me to produce clothing lines! Furniture!" exclaims the woman known fondly as the Barefoot Contessa, after the specialty-food shop in eastern Long Island, where her career as a chef began in 1978. Garten, 59, would rather stick to creating recipes for simple but sophisticated food and providing advice for casual yet elegant entertaining that couldn't be more appropriate for this time of year. The store may have shuttered its doors, but fans can still order from her new Barefoot Contessa Pantry line of convenience foods via her online site (www.inagarten.com) or choose recipes from her five cookbooks, including her latest, Barefoot Contessa at Home: Everyday Recipes You'll Make Over and Over Again. She also appears on her own Food Network show, called -- you guessed it -- Barefoot Contessa. "I wouldn't want to do too much and forget why I got into this in the first place, which is that I love to have parties with my friends," she says. "I always come back to that."
Ladies' Home Journal: Does your cooking style change in summer?
Ina Garten: I always cook simply -- but even more so now because the produce is so wonderful. I love the first raspberries, the first corn of the season. Many of these items need less actual "cooking" than during colder months -- or none at all. I serve berries with a dollop of creme fraiche or ice cream, for example. Or a simple thing I do with corn is slice it off the cob and saute it in butter, salt, and pepper.
LHJ: So, it's all about ingredients?
IG: And synergy. For example, my ideal summer dessert is peaches with Sauternes, a sweet dessert wine. Peel the fruit and slice it into a bowl; pour in the wine to cover, and let it sit for at least two hours. That's it -- two ingredients that make each other better.
LHJ: How do you typically approach party-giving?
IG: I'm a real planner. You have to make a menu, then decide to cook fewer dishes and cross things off. And don't make more than two things yourself. If you do the main course and a side dish, buy the dessert. Or plan something fun, like do-it-yourself ice cream sodas. Draw up shopping lists, and make a minute-by-minute schedule -- at 5 turn the oven on, at 5:15 put the turkey meat loaf in. The difference between a good party and a bad party has nothing to do with the food. It has all to do with the host and hostess having fun.
LHJ: You're always calm?
IG: Of course, like anybody, if I'm giving a party, my husband knows not to talk to me during the 15 minutes right before guests arrive!
LHJ: What do you say about eating outside?
IG: When I was catering, clients would want to plan outdoor parties for 100. I would ask: "What if it happens to rain or is too hot or cold? Do you have room to move everyone inside at the last minute?"
LHJ: So how do you entertain at this time of year?
IG: I like to serve drinks outside, then everybody comes inside -- no bugs, very easy. You've been outside, but you're not fighting with nature while you eat. And remember, lots of summer foods -- like salads and fruit desserts -- are best at room temperature, which means no standing over the stove or grill at the last minute.
LHJ: What about table decorations?
IG: In summer I love stripes for the tablecloth and casual wildflowers for the centerpiece.
LHJ: You've reinvented yourself a few times -- you've been a Washington, D.C., policy analyst, a store owner, a cookbook writer. Why?
IG: I have a low threshold for boredom. If my work doesn't keep me up at night, it's not interesting. When that happens, I jump off the cliff and learn to fly on the way down. The new direction always turns out to be so much more interesting than the old one. Currently, though, I'd be very happy if my life stayed just like this.
Despite appearances in more than 1,700 Food Network television episodes and a list of cooking awards that's as long as a rolling pin, Emeril Lagasse is, at heart, just a guy who loves to brag about his kids: Meril, 2; Emeril, Jr., 4, and Jessica and Jillian, both in their 20s. He and his wife, Alden, love to cook with them as well -- even the little ones. "We make ice cream and sorbets together," he says, "and we have homemade-pizza parties. They have a ball." You can still hear a strong Massachusetts accent in this Louisiana transplant's voice. Lagasse, 47, grew up south of Boston and, after earning a culinary degree from Johnson & Wales University, in Rhode Island, and apprenticeships in restaurants in Paris and Lyons, moved to New Orleans in 1982 to run Commander's Palace, a legendary restaurant. Lagasse soon began creating his own mouthwatering, innovative versions of Cajun and Creole cuisine and opened his eponymous restaurant in 1990. Accolades, more eateries in cities including Las Vegas and Atlanta, cookbooks, and a line of packaged foods and kitchen equipment (available at www.emerils.com) followed. Emeril and his favorite phrases, "Kick it up a notch!" and "Bam!" were soon famous.
Ladies' Home Journal: Are your kids good eaters?
Emeril Lagasse: My children eat fruits, vegetables, everything, but my wife and I don't preach about food. We have a garden with tomatoes, herbs, fruit trees -- good food is simply part of our everyday life.
LHJ: When you cook at home, what's the scene like?
EL: Everyone helps. My wife and two older daughters are good cooks, and Emeril, Jr., is, too. He always wants to be by my side, getting involved. He even asks me to buy ingredients just for him to use when we go to the grocery store.
LHJ: What does cooking together mean for your family?
EL: My wife and I value the family table. It's very important to us. We like to have our parents over, along with some friends, and of course, the kids -- 15 or 20 people is pretty ordinary for us.
LHJ: Are there cooking techniques you rely on in summer?
EL: I steam and grill more than I do during the winter months. At this time of year, I also like to cook en papillote: That's when the ingredients are wrapped in foil or parchment, which maintains the natural juices and nutrients -- and is really delicious. And of course, New Orleans is great these days for seasonal food, like shrimp and our local Creole tomatoes.
LHJ: I understand you just opened your 10th restaurant.
EL: Yes, it's called Emeril's Gulf Coast Fish House, and it's right on the beach in Gulfport, Mississippi, where my wife grew up -- so we have a lot of memories of friends and family. Before Hurricane Katrina hit, in 2005, my wife and I had a beach house there. Then, like a lot of the Louisiana and Mississippi coastline, the house was wiped out. We had been renovating the place for two and a half years, and now it's just a slab. But you know, that's life.
LHJ: Did you and your wife like to entertain there?
EL: Before the storm, we had a lot of fish fries -- we'd do speckled trout, snapper, shrimp. We'd drive just four or five minutes from the house to buy the seafood right off the boats.
LHJ: Will you rebuild?
EL: Yes. It's just a matter of time. The whole area was really pummeled by Katrina. But it is slowly coming back.
LHJ: What do you do to relax?
EL: People ask, "What do you do on your day off, Emeril?" I cook!
Giada De Laurentiis
"Lots of orange and lemon, which I zest or squeeze over pastas and salads -- phenomenal!"
"When I was a kid my dad and I would buy 20, 30 ears of corn from a farm stand and come home for a corn boil. Now my kids love corn, too."
"I'd have to say basil. I could eat tomato, mozzarella, and basil Caprese salad daily."
Giada De Laurentiis
"Blues/rock artist John Mayer, though my husband will put on the high-energy Red Hot Chili Peppers."
"We're a music family, not a TV family -- except during football season! So we listen to everything, but mostly New Orleans jazz like Jeremy Davenport and Harry Connick, Jr."
"Hotel Costes' sleek, mellow compilations."
Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, August 2007.