Finding the next "Food Network Star" is a new game for Giada De Laurentiis.
The chef who hosts "Giada at Home" and "Everyday Italian" now has more of a contest to choose an aspiring cooking personality for his or her own show, as the Food Network competition continues its eighth season Sundays. As are fellow returnee Bobby Flay and new cast addition Alton Brown, she's coaching a group in culinary challenges that will winnow the contenders down to one.
"It has really upped the stakes for us and made us emotionally invested in these people," De Laurentiis says of the new format. "Whoever wins, that mentor will produce that winner's show, so we have a lot involved in this."
And that's fine with De Laurentiis. "Actually, I had asked Food Network at the end of last season to change the game a bit," she reports. "I really felt like I was a talking head, in the sense that I was hosting with Bobby, but I didn't feel a big connection to each finalist. I wasn't spending enough time with them, and I wasn't able to mentor them enough.
"I didn't feel I could help them to get where they wanted to be, so the producers said, 'We'll speak about it and get back to you.' And when they did, I was so excited. Now I can really do my job as a mentor, and I'm not on the side of judging; I'm on the side of helping. That's the kind of show I'd wanted to do from the beginning."
All of this season's "Food Network Star" episodes have been recorded except for the July 22 finale. "The viewers will actually pick the winner," explains De Laurentiis, who adds the tapings have been "fun, emotional, many different feelings all wrapped up."
With her latest recipe book "Weeknights With Giada" a best-seller, De Laurentiis is readying to tape another season of "Giada at Home" before going to London for this summer's Olympics. She notes there's a formula to her busy life. "I always say that I take it one day at a time, and I like to keep my things all in one place. That's why you don't often see me do a lot of stuff outside of Food Network. That makes it a lot easier."
What are you currently reading?
"I'm trying to read ... I don't know if I should say it, but there's this big phenomenon [ 'Fifty Shades of Grey'], and I've only gotten through, like, the first 10 pages. When I get a break, maybe I can read it this summer. I feel like if I don't read it, I'm not in pop culture."
What did you have for dinner last night?
"I had my ginger chicken soup, and I also had a shrimp quesadilla."
What is your next project?
"To finish up my book tour, then to go back in and do more 'Giada at Home.' "
When was the last vacation you took - where and why?
"Last September, I took an extension of three days while I was shooting 'Giada in Paradise' in Bora Bora."
Photo/Video credit: Food Network