Nadia Giosia, better known as the kick-butt Nadia G from Food Network's Bitchin' Kitchen, is one spicy meatball (though, she's incredibly fit). She's not only an impressive, self-taught chef, she's also a smart business woman. Ms. Giosia saw an opportunity to cook up a winning recipe by combining her punk-rock aesthetics with her biting humour and her epicurean edge into a cult cooking show.
She started the show as a Web series in 2007 and three years later the Food Network came knocking on her hot-pink and leopard-print door. The Montreal native has since become one of Canada's most popular food personalities. (Just ask her over 99,000 fans on Facebook). But no matter how much success she's garnered, she hasn't forgotten her Italian roots or her childhood love of vinegar.
I know you call yourself a DIY chef, but how exactly did you learn to cook?
I learned to cook by making a mess in the kitchen. I am self-taught but I grew up in an Italian family where the women were phenomenal cooks and hilarious. But the thing is, my mother never really taught me to cook. I learned by watching her. She came from a generation where you had to cook and therefore she never wanted to put me in that position. Around 11 years old, I grabbed a can of tomatoes and about 52 cloves of garlic and made the most disgusting pasta sauce known to woman. I have improved since.
What went wrong in that experiment?
You need a subtlety when it comes to the flavours. To create a proper tomato basilico is a lot harder than one thinks. So me, at 11 years old: It was too sweet, too much oregano, too much garlic.
What would you say is the No. 1 problem of amateur chefs?
It's not necessarily overspicing, but getting over the fear of overspicing. Who cares! You make a mess, it doesn't work out so you either throw it out or force someone else to eat it. Just get on with it.
Did you have a favourite childhood meal growing up?
I went through different phases. There was a phase when I would drink vinegar. I was crazy about vinegar, man. I was young, about six years old, and I would just ask my mom to make tons of salads so I could suck back that vinegar. Any vinegar. White vinegar. Red-wine vinegar. Balsamic came later.
What about now? What do you love to eat?
I had the best Vietnamese poutine in Los Angeles. The chefs from this restaurant took the concept of gravy and turned it into a tangier, rice-vinegar-based sauce. Of course there were cheese curds. And then you had some pickled vegetables and some short ribs done with Vietnamese spices. It was really interesting and delicious. Poutine is one of those things you can really play with. You can make it Italian with some gnocchi or make it Vietnamese or even Mexican.
Are there any food you can't stomach?
Yes, absolutely. I don't eat gizzards. The only thing I'll do is foie gras. It's a texture thing. I think it's also psychological. I didn't grow up eating it. It's a flavour thing too. I did a show with Andrew Zimmern and we ate some pretty crazy things, including kidneys. And apparently for him it was the best kidney he had ever eaten. For me, I just kept chewing and chewing and chewing. You just don't stop chewing with kidney, man.
What's your guilty pleasure when it comes to food?
There is this one Arab cheese called mshallaleh. It's so salty. It's a braided cheese with nigella seeds in it. It's like pure salt. It's a salt lick. Every time I eat it, I can't get my jewellery off. I retain so much water but it's so delicious.
What do you always keep in stock in your home kitchen at home?
I always need to have lentils. I mostly eat vegetarian when I'm at home because I find meat is too much of a responsibility. You buy meat and you have to cook it right away. I'm not a big fan of freezing it. So it's like, 'Hey meat, you're not the boss of me.' So lentils are always great because you can throw them in a soup or sauce and it gives you great texture and protein.
I also always have arugula. It's delicious, even when wilted.
Is there anything you make sure doesn't enter your kitchen?
I am pretty careful about the stuff that I keep at home. I'm the type of person that if I buy a bag of chips, I won't be able to put them down. I can't just eat a 'portion' size of like 10 chips. So I just don't buy it or buy it rarely. I would say the most unhealthy thing I have in my fridge right now is chocolate soy pudding.
What do you eat before you tape your high-energy shows?
I drink a lot of green tea. Like 12 to 15 green teas a day. The [production assistant] PA has to watch it because if I ever come down from all that green tea all hell breaks loose. So they have to keep them coming.
Sparkling or still?
Indian or Chinese?
That's a tough one. Indian.
Cake or ice cream?
Wine on its own: Red or white?
Greasy spoon or Zagat-rated restaurant?
That is a hard question. On one hand, I love greasy spoons, but they tend to all taste the same. The Zagat-rated is fun because you're surprising the palate a little more.
Editor's Note: Nadia G.'s Bitchin' Kitchen has over 99,000 Facebook fans. Incorrect information appeared in the original version of this article.
This interview has been condensed and edited.