This was Giada De Laurentiis' worst on-air food disaster

When asked about her worst television experience, Giada De Laurentiis didn't have to think for long. The question brought back memories of her first-ever live segment on television when she appeared on the Today show to present a dish of chicken made with spinach and pesto. "I was so humiliated," she recalled during a 2016 interview with Food & Wine.

In a segment that had already been pared down to a mere three minutes, the host cut into the chicken, using a fork because the studio had failed to procure a knife. He took a bite, walked to the back of the set with the camera following, and promptly spat the piece into a bin. "The pesto is really good," he told De Laurentiis, "but I think you're trying to poison me with raw chicken." 

Giada De Laurentiis stood there dumbfounded. Later, the network received many emails about the segment and the incident appeared on future blooper reels. The reception, however, was unfair to the newbie TV chef. The dish had actually been produced by a food stylist who had merely seared the chicken instead of cooking it. "People don't realize there are food stylists there," De Laurentiis said, "so they probably thought I didn't have a clue what I was doing." Fortunately, her career was not preemptively ended by someone else's blunder.

The chefs behind the chefs

As De Laurentiis noted, not many people are aware of food stylists. However, they're vital to the business. In a profile of food stylist Zoe Hegedus, Insider lauded stylists as "the movies' biggest problem solvers you never think about. The first thing a food stylist needs is to be prepared to make a lot of food for a lot of takes."

Preparing food for these takes often involves outright faking the food. A food stylist might switch out egg yolks for edible spheres of orange and mango, since regular yolks visibly dry out over a long day of filming. Another food stylist trick is to fill meat pies like mincemeat with oatmeal and cocoa powder to mimic the texture and color of meat while ensuring the look of the dish lasts for hours.

In most cases, the point of food styling is all about marketing and not necessarily taste. "While most people prepare food to eat, the food stylist prepares food to feed the eyes and the imagination," Delores Custer explains in Food Styling: The Art of Preparing Food for the Camera, excerpted on NPRIt is an art that demands both a sense of how to cook food properly, as well as understanding how certain foodstuffs behave while they're hanging out on a set. Unfortunately, the food stylist involved with Giada De Laurentiis' chicken did not get the memo that the dish also had to be eaten. At least it looked good.