“I think it’s pretty gutsy for someone to try and feed me pasta,” said Giada De Laurentiis, her voice crackling slightly thanks to a sinus infection.
The Food Network’s queen of Italian cuisine had just left the stage at the Metropolitan Cooking and Entertaining Show. Held this past weekend at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, it is the sort of event where vendors hand out samples of pepper jack cheese and jam and tiny sausages to suburban couples getting a jump on their Christmas shopping. Behind a labyrinth of black curtains, attendees watched De Laurentiis and fellow Food Network personalities Guy Fieri (bleached hair, bowling shirts) and Paula Deen (butter) demoing dishes from a large, brightly lit stage.
So who would have the gall to serve gnocchi to the Everyday Italian lady? That would be Mike Isabella, Top Chef alum and owner of the recently opened Graffiato in Chinatown, where De Laurentiis and her agent spent Saturday night gorging themselves on the potato-filled pasta, along with chestnut-filled mezzalunas; handmade spaghetti with cherry tomato, garlic, and basil sauce; crispy goat; chicken with cranberry sauce; and pumpkin-filled zeppole (doughnutlike pastries).
About that gnocchi. “Lighter than air, like little pillows,” rhapsodized De Laurentiis, seated on a puffy brown couch in her dressing room, a hairstylist teasing her honey-colored curls in anticipation of the next appearance. She said she ended up at Graffiato because the employees at her hotel recommended it. For this, the concierge desk staffers were rewarded with half a pizza and three zeppole. “They were so shocked,” said De Laurentiis. “I think nobody brings them food.”
Just then, a publicist within earshot informed De Laurentiis that Isabella was down the hall, hosting a private meet-and-greet for his most ardent fans.
De Laurentiis: “Would they mind if I went in and said hi?”
Publicist (sarcastically): “Oh, I think they would probably hate it.”
And so we were off, a scrum formed of publicist, agent, handler, and writer, escorting De Laurentiis past a long row of closed doors, then halting suddenly outside the one containing Mike Isabella’s meet-and-greet. When the door flew open, Isabella devotees turned their heads towards it and let forth a collective gasp at the sight of wee De Laurentiis striding forward in her cherry red jeans. A giggling Isabella enveloped her in a hug, and then De Laurentiis offered one more verbal love letter to Graffiato before gliding out the door toward her own collection of fans, gathered somewhere nearby, anxiously awaiting her arrival.