On Feb. 20, Horseshoe Casino Baltimore and Giada De Laurentiis hosted a press event to promote the Food Network star’s latest venture: GDL Italian by Giada, a mid-level New Italian restaurant nestled into the casino.
The event was meant to be informative, a taste of what was to come when the eatery opens in mid-April. And, well, it was informative – but perhaps not in the way the large onsite PR team had hoped.
Things started off fairly well, with a short interview of De Laurentiis by Horseshoe manager Erin Chamberlin. De Laurentiis discussed the importance of being a female chef in a male-dominated world, touting her new “text friendship” with Cindy Wolf. (Though it’s worth noting that her executive chef for the location is male … and that she couldn’t remember his last name.) But when the mic turned to the small press corps assembled–including bloggers, influencers, and TV teams – things got a little dicey.
Let’s not kid ourselves: Most celebrity chefs opening restaurants in hugely commercial spaces (like a casino or hotel, the latter where another of De Laurentiis’ franchises can be found) are not doing it because of a deep love of the location. Gordon Ramsay, whose Steak opened several months ago, is a good example–during his press event, he spoke more about the Caesar’s corporation than Baltimore itself, as that was clearly the draw for him.
Perhaps, then, De Laurentiis’ mistake was trying to pretend she had deep-dived into Charm City. Her culinary tour of Baltimore has thus far seemed to include only heavy hitters – Wolf, Spike Gjerde, the Plank squad over at Rye St. Tavern in Port Covington – thus ignoring the city’s more eclectic eats. The worst crime of all? In her “many trips” to Baltimore, she has yet to visit Little Italy, a fact that seemed to leave the chef herself scratching her head once brought to her attention. (“That probably should have been our first stop,” she said, looking past the press toward her PR team.)
When asked what restaurants or regions of the city she was looking forward to visiting, in fact, Chamberlin didn’t even let her answer, rattling through their agenda for the day before De Laurentiis could speak. After she’d finished, De Laurentiis mentioned an invitation to Cindy Wolf’s farm, which didn’t elicit much of a response from the crowd.
“That didn’t go over that well, did it?” she asked Chamberlin, laughing.
Easy enough to overlook. Funny, even – it’s a little refreshing when you see the cogs behind the celebrity machine, and she was bound to make a few cultural missteps in the weird insular environment that is Charm City.
Like this one: “I’ve never opened a restaurant in a city where people don’t come to have a good time before,” she said of the city, comparing it to Las Vegas. “How do I draw them in?”
She probably didn’t mean it maliciously. Baltimore is obviously not in the same class as Vegas when it comes to tourists. But saying people don’t come here to have a good time – or, as that phrase implies from the mouth of a chef, to eat well? Tell that to the New York Times. And Zagat and Eater. And Travel + Leisure. And Vogue. And the Wall Street Journal.
In what would become the penultimate question of the session, De Laurentiis was asked why she said yes to a Baltimore location. Unsurprisingly, she seemed unsure. She compared the experience to jumping off a cliff, saying she was “incredibly fearful” of the move before offering some desultory words about people in Baltimore being “special.”
Yes, Baltimore has a less-than-stellar reputation. That being said, many Baltimoreans actually embrace that, loving the chance to show new visitors that despite its problems, it’s a cultural hub full of interesting, big-hearted people (thus the popularity of the “Actually, I like it here” and “There’s more than murder here!” stickers).
Of course, it isn’t for everyone. But in the midst of our city’s powerful, game-changing food renaissance, how much room is there for those who don’t try harder?