THERE WERE ONLY TWO FEMALE restaurateurs—Border Grill’s Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger—on the Las Vegas Strip when Giada de Laurentiis opened her eponymous eatery, Giada, at The Cromwell a year ago. The unqualified success of her namesake restaurant has gained the 44-year-old Food Network star of Giada at Home access to the very exclusive club of major male chefs like Wolfgang Puck, Mario Batali, Bobby Flay, Nobu Matsuhisa and Joël Robuchon. “[The lack of female restaurateurs] was one of the reasons I thought I’d try it, but also one of the things that keeps me up at night as well,” says the Emmy Award-winning Culinary Hall of Fame inductee. “Everything in this life is a double-edged sword, and there’s always the good and the bad that comes with it. This is a male-dominated business—it’s male chefs that dominate The Strip. Most of them have been supportive, but surprised at our success—I’m surprised as well, to be honest.” She shouldn’t be: girl power speaks for itself. Here, de Laurentiis discusses breaking into Las Vegas’ boys club, the possibility of opening another restaurant and how Bobby Flay and Mario Batali were so instrumental in helping her realize her dreams.
Do you see Las Vegas’ culinary scene as a boys’ club?
This business is a boys’ club. It just is. You need to know how to play your cards, [but] they never really let you in. They’ll let you in a little bit, but I don’t know if they’ll ever really let us in completely. That’s not to say that we can’t team up with them, and that we can’t do our own thing as well. I’ve never had a restaurant before; this was a whole new experience. I felt like I could take a backseat to the boys because I still have a lot to learn—it’s a huge undertaking. As many people have said to me, “Nobody starts his or her first restaurant in Vegas with 250 seats—nobody. You’ve got to be crazy.” I figure that I either jump all-in this time around, or I don’t. I didn’t have any desire to open a 20-seat restaurant in L.A., where I live. My family’s in the movie business, and I come from basically showbiz because let’s be honest—I cook on TV—and although I’m classically-trained and have worked for big name chefs like Wolfgang Puck, I really didn’t know my way around running a restaurant. I leaned on my chef friends who were already in Vegas for help. [Women] just have to work harder to prove we’re just as good. So far, so good. I’ve only been here a year—let’s see where I am in ten years. For the first year, I feel like we’ve gone way above expectations.
Is it true that you have plans to expand the restaurant?
Everyone says that to me and I’m like, “Really? Where?” I don’t have any plans to expand just yet. I got a lot of offers last fall and I kept saying I need to succeed a year and see what this is like, because I might decide I never want to have another restaurant in my life again. I wasn’t ready to jump in again. It took a lot out of me and my family. I really wanted to give this first baby my attention. It doesn’t mean that I never will again, but right now I can’t think of another place as phenomenal as Vegas. I try, but I just can’t.