What kind of drinks do you make when you are at home? “I like very basic, simple cocktails. I do not like fussy. And I frankly don’t want to buy a bunch of different alcohol and spirits that I am not going to use again. I also like effervescence. I think anything bubbly is more festive.”
What is your signature cocktail? “I was drinking Aperol Spritzes on vacation and then I sort of changed it around. I got some fresh grapefruit juice, which I thought was fantastic, so I mixed it with a little bit of bourbon, some club soda and some lime [and served it] on ice. And the combo all together gave you that sparkly sort of effervescence that I love. It just felt fun and festive and a little bit different. I’m into bourbons as well these days. In fact, I had a cocktail earlier today that was bourbon, Frangelico, sparkling water, and lime juice. Oh, and thyme simple syrup. It was fantastic. It was almost like a lemonade it was so good.”
Do you generally mix your whiskey or do you enjoy it neat? “If I am at home I’ll mix it. But if I’m at a restaurant, straight. At home I can control the amount of sugar that is in the mixers that I’m going to use. For instance, I’ll use fresh grapefruit juice. I can’t guarantee at a bar I’m going to get that. If I don’t get that, I get a horrible hangover the next day. At home, though, I squeeze my own grapefruit juice or I get fresh and I make my own syrups. I control the amount of sugar that goes into everything. Because it’s the sugar that knocks me off my feet.”
Do you have rules when creating drinks? “I will tell you the one thing I hate about certain cocktails is the raw egg and the smell. A cocktail should smell good the minute it comes near you. Because before you ever taste a cocktail, you will smell a cocktail. So if it has a funky scent to it, your mind, just like [with] food, conjures up an image of what it’s going to taste like and almost controls your taste buds.”
Is there a way to use egg whites without turning people away? “Well, I found that you have to top it with something. Nutmeg is the easiest thing to top it with because it’s so powerful and it creates sort of a holiday scent. That’s really great on top. When mixologists do not finish it with something that has a wonderful scent you get that sort of eggy smell and it’s disgusting.”
Do you remember the first drink you ever had? “The first drink that my parents made for us was Campari on ice with lime. It was a drink [they] had just about every night. That was the first one and I did not like it very much. But things got better after that. You know? Margaritas were my favorite in college.”
How do you like your Margarita? With a salt rim? “I like the whole nine yards. But I’m a girl in the sense that I like it with the crushed ice rather than on the rocks. It’s like a slushy.”
Do you have a big liquor cabinet? “I just bought a new house. I have a wine cellar, which I’m trying desperately to fill. I usually buy what I drink. I don’t buy to hold on to. So I’ve started to feel like I have to be a connoisseur at this point. Either that or I have to change it into a refrigerator.”
Do you make the drinks when you entertain guests? “I actually try not to play bartender. I try to let other people play bartender. I either have one of my friends [bartend] or I set up a bar with three ingredients and I let other people do it. It’s a really good conversation starter and it really empowers people when they can make their own cocktail.”
Are there any bottles that are off limits in your house? “I have been given some high-high-end tequila bottles that I keep in a safe place. Out of sight, out of mind. That’s kind of how I feel about it.”
Do you think people should have cocktails with dinner? “I have a lot of chef friends who do not like it. Not during because it takes away from the flavor of the food itself.”
How do you feel about it? “That’s a tough one. In my Vegas restaurant I have mixologists. If someone is ordering a specific cocktail they’ll tell them what kind of dishes work really well with it. But randomly otherwise it’s not a good idea because it does muck up the flavors. It really does. Having said that, it’s hard to tell people what they should and shouldn’t drink.”
Do you get as much joy from making drinks as from cooking? “I definitely get more joy from cooking. But I will say, it’s nice to have a light cocktail while I’m cooking. If someone else will make me [one], I will certainly enjoy it.”
Giada De Laurentiis is the host of numerous Food Network shows, including Giada in Italy. She is also owner of the restaurant Giada in Las Vegas and the author of eight cookbooks. She has also partnered with Frangelico on a home-entertaining campaign.
Interview has been condensed and edited.