Giada de Laurentiis' presence on the Food Network. I remember being terrifically bored when I was sick one day and this strange Italian woman with a big smile and a very interesting nose talking about grapefruit zabaglione was the only thing I was vaguely interested in.
But then, you see, I got interested. I like watching her; she's incredibly pretty, and I like the way she dresses. She's pretty darn good-natured and excited about what she's doing, which is sweet. But she has these awesome close-ups of the food she makes which do focus a whole lot of the attention on what she's doing rather than how low her shirt is. I love watching Alton Brown's half-cooking, half-science show on which he is ridiculous and entertaining, but I feel like I'm in the kitchen with that woman because she actually cuts up all the food she uses. She's an innovative cook, too, I've got to give her that. Anthony Bourdain, famously picky, noted that she was about the only Food Network chef who could actually cook. She's got the Grand Diplome from the Cordon Bleu in Paris, meaning she specialized in both cuisine and pastry. And she does fascinating things in the kitchen--I knew zabaglione as a combination of eggs, sugar, and Marsala wine--now, thanks to her, I've played around with lime, pomegranate, DiSaronno, and stevia instead of sugar in zabaglione. (DiSaronno and pomegranate work brilliantly. Lime doesn't mix that well with strawberries.)
I've added mint, Italian parsley, and lemon thyme to my balcony garden. I've made my own tomato sauce. I've roasted a whole chicken for my boyfriend--who will never be anything but my darling inveterate meat lover--and then made the cat really happy with the packet of giblets. I marinate sun-dried tomatoes in a pretty glass jar with garlic, onion, oregano, lemon thyme, salt and pepper, and olive oil. I infuse olive oil with dried garden rosemary and a clove of garlic or two--it's amazing for bruschetta and salad dressings. I hosted a spring dinner for my boyfriend's professor with tomato-basil salad, grilled chicken with spinach pesto, lemon spaghetti, and the zabaglione over berries. (Admittedly, I had a vegetable version, but that's what happens when the rest of the world isn't mostly vegan and doesn't want to be--you cook two meals.) I've tried grapefruit in salad. I've put mint in something that isn't dessert. I've burrowed through my boyfriend's grandfather's cookbooks and have amassed a wide selection of everything from Food from the Arab World to Truffles.
Say what you like about her appearance or her cheerfulness, the woman's inspiring. I've always liked cooking--my mother is absolutely brilliant at it and I discovered the culinary appeal of Mireille Guiliano's French Women Don't Get Fat in undergrad (her new cookbook came out on Tuesday, April 27th, 2010)--but Giada de Laurentiis is making me want to invent for myself--and see whether the amount of sugar she uses really is too much. (It usually is. But not for the zabaglione.)
And, yes, I can see why "cleavage" pops up as a google option if you type in her name. But, seriously, to those few who have a problem with this--she isn't doing anything wrong. She isn't a floozy, she's cheerful, she doesn't have a scandalous past, she isn't stripping, she isn't sleeping around to get to the top--what she is doing, in fact, is being a better, more passionate cooking housewife on national television than a lot of women have the energy or inclination for, and she's doing it effortlessly and with a smile. No wonder a lot of very conservative women resent her.
I, for one, intend to toast her with the pitcher of champagne Sangria I'm making this weekend. Although I'm leaving out half the mint syrup.