Jaime Laurita loves to talk, and he’s got this insane and unique energy that can just keep you listening. Extremely positive and upbeat, it’s no wonder that some of the biggest names in show business and the music industry have been drawn to him. From decorating, to cooking, Jaime has impeccable taste that has made him one of the most sought after people in the event planning and service industries. Now, he is taking all he has learned from a life of touring and his RHONJ notoriety to build his real dream: an empire of the best and highest quality fine food items that Italy has to offer. I caught up with Jaime right before the launch of his new website to get the scoop, and, of course, ask him about his famous family.
TBB: Hello Jaime. Before we start I must say that I’ve had the pleasure to meet many of your family members. I adore them all, especially your mother (Nettie Laurita).
JL: Thanks for loving on my mom, as she is a very artistic person and deserves some credit for that. Mom is like a butterfly and she flies around and does all of these beautiful creative things for people. She gave me a lot of my creativity genes. She is super talented and can paint anything she gets her hands on. She makes really pretty jewelry, too. I give both my parents a ton of credit. I don’t know many people that can handle a few children today let alone eleven. As an adult, now, I realize this more and more everyday. They needed the reality show in my opinion. Talk about ratings!!! My god!
TBB: Your sister Dina (Manz0) is also very artistic. Did all of your siblings inherit that creative gene?
JL: In different ways we all kind of did. We’ve taken certain (traits) from my mom and some from my dad. We are all creative in some way, some in business, some are great cooks and such, but as far as the decorating and the cooking, I think I got what seems to be a double dose of that with my gourmet cooking and interior design abilities. I love it! Dina is very talented and got more of the desire to stay with the design and event planning thing. My sister Fran is also a great artist and animal lover. I learned so much from just observing everyone else, which is what happens when you have so many brothers and sisters and are one of the youngest ones. I love being a creative person and I do have my very own unique flair and flavor. In a sense we are all just very different flavors of the same ice cream. I’m like rocky-road-meets-rainbow-swirl (laughs) but it tastes good! I promise.
TBB: Which of your siblings are you closest with?
JL: It’s really honestly kind of hard to say these days. When we were younger, I was probably mostly close with my brother Chris. We all now have these different long-distance relationships as adults and we are all so darn busy. I would say I’m good with most of them, but I do resonate more with Dina’s personality and philosophy. In my opinion we have the most in common artistically and when it comes to shoes (laughs). Most times we all easily can make each other laugh. Every one of us has that sick, crazy, “Laurita” sense of humor after all. Caroline (Manzo) is also super busy and I do miss her. She’s funny and laughs at everything, sometimes at just the worst moments. I find that nervous laugh sorta funny. We’ve grown more apart as adults and thats just what happens sometimes with big families and distance. Also, I have changed so tremendously as an adult. I’m not that crazy, big energy, confused little boy anymore. I have found my way, I work very hard, I’m so focused, and I have created a wonderful, meaningful life. I am proud of myself.
TBB: You and your partner, Rich (Lane), made television history when you shared your wedding on national television last year. Did you ever hesitate to document such a personal event on reality television?
JL: Of course! Oh my God, naturally I was a little bit apprehensive. We were asked to be on (RHONJ) in a bigger way and I had to mull that one over big-time. We had a little hesitation as we did not know what the editing process would reveal. It is a big decision and a bit of a crap shoot to put it all out there and into other peoples’ hands to mold. Around the same time that it aired they approved civil unions in Illinois and (President) Obama made a statement supporting same sex marriages nationwide. Naturally, I went to Rich first because it was an opportunity to show the Bravo viewers some good quality content, but it was also an important, timely issue. We decided that we were perfect role models at the time to represent same sex unions. Rich is an adored school teacher and popular artist. We’ve been together for over 15 years and we have something really truly meaningful and valuable. Like all married couples, we have faced relationship challenges but we were rock-solid then and are now more than ever. This was a fantastic chance to show the world that same-sex couples are really just like everybody else. So we said let’s just go for it. That’s the way it all really happened. In hindsight, I think it was all really just meant to be. Even now, when I rewind it all back and look at my civil union on The Real Housewives of New Jersey, it’s exactly what I wanted to see on the show. That was so very real! Bravo did such a great job showing and presenting our heartfelt ceremony. It was something very powerful and a very positive memorable moment on season five. I’m overjoyed to have had the chance to put it all out there and I think it was one of the bright lights in maybe the darkest season to date. We have heard and we respect all of the overwhelming positive and loving feedback from the fans of the show. So thank you guys! But we still need the whole marriage thing to be approved nationwide. It does not matter whom you love; it matters that you love. That’s how I see it all and I love Rich so much. So big deal people, let’s move it all forward… Let’s just all remember the happy tears and those fabulous hats worn at our ceremony. Very diva… Nice work ladies! Thank you all for coming to Chicago!
TBB: I read that Rich’s co-workers and students did not know about his sexual orientation until your wedding episode aired?
JL: That is not entirely true. For the most part they didn’t know too much about his life, but not because he was hiding anything. It was sort of a “don’t ask, don’t tell” type situation. Rich is very much the serious, focused teacher. He’s there to teach, not really to talk about his private business. He is also really popular at the school because he is truly so creative and committed to his work. I don’t think he even knows what a genius artist he really is, which really pisses me off a lot (laughs). All kidding aside, he’s amazing all the way around. He is a very good person. Check out his work at www.richlanephotography.com!
TBB: The speeches we witnessed during your wedding were very moving. Your family is very supportive and loving. How and when did you come out to them?
JL: Oh, thank you. Caroline’s speech just ripped my heart out. Actually we had several other incredible speakers that day as well, all whom just made me so proud that day finally arrived. You know, I was the kid who if you didn’t know I was gay, it was hard to tell at times. I have been this way my entire life (laughs) I’m pretty butch. Seriously, I think maybe some of the family assumed it, maybe even knew it but not me so much. I was always trying to figure myself out. It was such a freaking nightmare for me growing up. I was so damn confused and I don’t exactly remember how it happened or when it happened that I realized it. I really love women, even dated many and I think they are still so sexy and beautiful. As a child I used to put on these stupid shows for my family. I’m talking dance routines, singing all of it and if they didn’t know by then… jeezus. It’s funny because I’m not so much the average, stereo, typical flamboyant gay guy that’s portrayed sometimes in the media and women were always very attracted to me. I’ve had to say to more than a few, “Hey, you know I’m gay right?,” on occasion. However, I’m now more comfortably colorful as an adult much more than when I was as a kid. It is not a fun life living through the difficult process. My sister Dina once said something to me not too long ago that I will never forget. She said, “I wish you were even more gay growing up!” I would call that pretty supportive of her. I really don’t remember coming out though, I think it was more like falling out. I can say one thing’s for sure- I wanted to be right about it. It was not an easy thing to be known as in those days. It is a little different now. Thanks to God and Bravo TV (laughs). I am happy to at least know that it’s gotten a little better for the younger generation. No one truly has the right to judge anyone. There is only one judge. Just be proud of who you are and make the best of whatever that is. I wouldn’t change it now for anything. I’m very proud of who I’ve become as a person. I hardly ever even think about it.
TBB: You are a very positive, upbeat, and peace-loving person. How do you handle the conflict between (your sisters) Caroline and Dina?
JL: Everything you see on Twitter that comes from me is how I’m feeling right at the moment. I love to motivate people. It’s truly the stuff that’s in my heart and soul at the time. I realize that I’m helping people and people are helping me in return. A lot of those feelings are based on some worldly experiences I’ve had and some revolve around my own relationships and the things that may be happening within my family or my friends’ current situations. I keep it light and very positive and I try not to swear too much or be negative at all. As for my sisters Dina and Caroline, I really don’t want to know what their conflict is, however I would love to see it get resolved at some point. The truth is that it’s not really any of my business at all to discuss with you, or anyone else for that matter. When it comes to my family, the end result is that one day it should be resolved. These things take time and sometimes a long time. I hope they are close again in the near future. How do I handle it? At this point I just pray good thoughts their way. They are big girls. I say leave it be people and they will figure it all out, or not. All families have their differences and disfunction. I’m not a fighter, I’m a lover. If I fight my “Inner Jerseytude” and that energized gay man we discussed comes out fighting all at the same time… it is rare and definitely not pretty. Life is way too short. Anger is passé .
TBB: You work with many celebrities that NY or LA would seem to be your ideal location, so why did you choose the Chicago area?
JL: I get asked this all the time! I didn’t want to be in New Jersey or New York at all. Growing up I didn’t fit the New Jersey mold. I love me some Jersey folks, but I had a bigger dream for myself and a large wingspan. I dreamt secretly of seeing the world on my own away from the East Coast. I knew I was a gay man by then and I wanted badly to find myself, but what was offered to me out there at the time was not so much going to work for me. I really wanted to badly fly out of the nest and far enough away. I had the opportunity to meet Chicago on an externship from chef school at The Culinary Institute of America and I fell in love with this city! Like Sinatra said, “This is my kind of town, Chicago is.” Look what happened. I moved to Chicago, I fell in love, I got married, and my wedding was aired on Bravo! Chicago is a magical place to be. I love it here so much. I’m very thankful to Chicago and to how I got here. I am grateful to my dad because he was very instrumental during that time.
TBB: Since you enjoyed sharing your ceremony so much, is your own show something you would consider?
JL: Are you kidding? I’m dying to have my own TV show! Everyone will tell you that I just love to talk. I would love to do a talk show, like a Rachel Ray but with my own cool creative twists. I do think it’s a timing thing. Five years ago I thought I wanted one, but then I may have not had my wedding on Bravo. Also, the experiences I’ve had today would have been so different and I’m so happy in my life right now. I’m not the least bit nervous on camera. When I was a guest on the Oprah Winfrey show I thought, “I would love to have this woman’s job!” Truthfully, it is a real childhood dream for me to do something great and meaningful on television. In reality, I have been shown so many different levels of fame thus far in life from my job to now my family’s fame. I can literally taste the differences. It isn’t about the fame or becoming famous- it’s about the entertainment value. What I do know for sure now is that it has to be the right situation and with the right people. I’m a lot more seasoned now. I’m so ready to do some quality entertaining. My fishing line is out. Let’s see if the fish are biting. I do realize, however, that all fame is fleeting and has its price. You have to be careful. I would be wicked on some sort of judging panel. We shall see where the cards fall.
TBB: When you mention your experiences are you referring to your career?
JL: Yes. I’ve been working on a very personal level with some of the biggest celebrities and musicians on this earth. I’m the backstage chef and decorator to the stars, like a strange bizarre sort of concierge. I’m the guy who gets the green M&Ms into their rooms (laughs). I set up and create the environments just the way the big stars want them and then some. It can be so stressful, but I’ve seen the world so many times over by now. Basically it’s a twenty-four-seven gig. I’m such a perfectionist and it’s all about the finest of details and getting it right every single time. It’s truly the “you’re only as good as your last show was” mentality. It is not a job that anyone could or should do forever. The road is long and hard. Trust me you, earn your stripes out there. It is very hard work. But you learn so much by being on their wings.
TBB: How did you get started?
JL: I started years ago as a chef in backstage catering, serving everyone from INXS and Phil Collins to any rockstar and band you can possibly imagine. Everyone that came into Chicago touring at the time I’d end up cooking or styling for. I was the guy with crazy blonde hair, they’d all remember me because of my flair. It evolved into touring with the biggest bands and then losing all my hair (laughing).
TBB: You have worked with some extraordinary people from Sting to Madonna. You even have a cookbook you co-wrote, Plenty, with Sarah McLachlan. Of all these exciting experiences, what is your favorite memory?
JL: I can’t pick just one. I’m lucky enough that at the end of the day I would go and look in the mirror and say, “I can’t believe this is my job!” I’ve really had so many of those moments! Seeing Sting everyday was almost enough. I love him so much. He is pretty dreamy and amazing. Really, there are hundreds of grateful memorable moments to look back on in my career. C’mon, I’m a gay man that worked closely with Madonna… umm bucket list, check! Wow!!
TBB: Will there be a memoir?
JL: I’m writing two books right now, one is my Most Loving cookbook project and one is about the energy of food, mood, and music. It is kind of a memoir of my stories and life on the journey to your dreams, about the things I’ve learned and earned, good and bad. I’ve learned some amazing shit out there (laughs) and I feel like I’m pretty well rounded now as a human being. You learn a lot being next to such huge stardom. Sometimes it’s how to behave and other times how not to behave. I have seen it all, trust me. You would be so surprised.
TBB: You’ve studied with some of the world’s greatest chefs. Which cuisine is your favorite to cook?
JL: I love all food, and I study everyday, but it’s Italian of course! I was able to train in Italy for a few years and I’m a full-blown Italian chef. I have a Master certificate in Italian cuisine. My meatballs are the best! I am very passionate about all kinds of food, but you can’t beat my Italian food. I just love it. Especially pasta. I can’t live without it. No way!
TBB: You are the spokesperson for Beantrees Coffee. How did that partnership develop?
JL: I’m actually the executive VP of Beantrees Organic Coffee right now. The company was started 18 years ago. The (owner) followed me around from show to show on tour and wanted to meet me. I met him 12 years ago and he told me all about the coffee industry, about the farmers, and how the Third World is being inundated with chemicals and pesticides. He showed me his coffee and said, “I’m going to package it and sell it to the world.” I said, “Good luck buddy.” The coffee industry is a very competitive market. Then, I tasted his coffee and I just fell madly in love with it. I’m obsessed with great coffee. I’m so passionate about making this company a success. It’s not about the money at all- it’s about the farmers and their families producing it, about them getting a fair price. It’s a crime what’s going on in the coffee business today. People should be paying good money for good coffee. And we have, in my opinion, the most premium on the market today, that is also organic. Please support us at www.beantrees.com.
TBB: You just launched a new website, www.chefjaimelaurita.com . What other exciting things do you have on the horizon?
JL: I’m super excited about my new product line Chef Jaime Laurita Brands. It’s really a dream that I’ve had for my entire chef life. I’m putting out only pure, high quality, Italian products imported straight from Italy. I’m the creative director of the company and everything is a reflection of me or a nod to the experiences I’ve had on tour and the training and traveling I’ve done in Italy. Take my Bello Boy Moscato Rose Petals. That is a loving story about a woman named Nancy who brought me roses at my family’s cafe where we just worked together. She used to bring me a rose, hold my face and say, “Hello doll, you’re my ‘Bello-boy.'” She was a dear family friend and because she brought me those roses and inspired me to cook professionally, I infused the Moscato wine with roses. It’s a respect thing and a beautiful tribute. It is a fantastic wine. I’m not just slapping my name on a bunch of products. I’m involved in it all the way through. There is a story behind it all. I have my hand and my heart in it and I deeply care about its quality. I have the perfect pastas, canned tomatoes, olive oils… everything good that’s Italian! I also have a unique table-top furniture line and candle concept all in development. Different things from the line are creations that remind me of the celebrities I’ve worked with. They are all my muses now. It’s fun. There were so many times I’d be arranging flowers for Madonna backstage and wish there’d be a specific looking vase. Now I am creating those perfect vessels (laughs). I guess I’m kind of Martha Stewart’s long lost gay son after all! It is all about quality and it’s cool and I can’t wait to serve it to you all someday very soon. I’m very excited to be working with The Rose Ring Group on these projects.
TBB: Product lines seem to now be the next step for reality stars. Fans often feel like shows are becoming infomercials for the stars’ business ventures. Do you fear you are treading into that territory?
JL: ME? HELL NO! Although, I agree with some of this mentality. To begin, I’m not a Housewife… at least not yet (laughing). Can you imagine that? Look out Bethenny! I’ve also been a hardworking professional chef my entire working life. The stuff that’s coming from me is painfully authentic. It is who I am, this is part of my past and passion, and it’s in my soul. I can only hope that Bethenny (Frankel) wanted to do Skinnygirl her whole life. Either way she nailed it alright. Good for her! I admire her for it. Andy Cohen said once on a finale show, “What is wrong with being an opportunist? There’s nothing wrong with it.” If you do something and it is truly who you are, then great. So be it. Go for it girls! Is it an infomercial? There’s a line to be drawn I guess for some and some people are going to feel that way for sure, but if it’s for the sake of good products being put out there, then why the hell not? Who wouldn’t do it? If you get a good fifteen minutes, then do something good with it. That’s my take on all of that. I say more power to them. It puts people in business and to work. We need more of that, especially in these times.
TBB: Thank you for talking with me today. Is there anything else you would like to add?
JL: Yes. First and foremost, thank you very much for giving me this time. You have such a great blog. I also want to say that I’m for the most part proud of my family when I watch them on the show. I think they are doing a pretty decent job. I’m so thankful that I’ve been able to meet some of the people and the fans that I call friends that now know my family and some of my own story. You’re all amazing and so very passionate and that’s the nice part about all of this. Many people have gotten to know me a little bit better over the seasons of RHONJ (remember “Rooster down!”) and now that I’m a little more known because of it, just please know I’m very thankful for it all . Everyone on the show has an amazing opinionated fan base, my family, Teresa (Giudice) and her family, all of them really! Of course, I would like this new season to be a little bit lighter and laced with a little bit more love and laughter because it is still in there somewhere! I often miss New Jersey since being away for so long. There is only one place like it in the world, trust me on that, and for the most part the Garden State is a pretty great place to be. Cheers to many future years of success to Andy Cohen, Bravo TV and to the cast and crew of RHONJ! Xo
P.S for the record, if you see me out there in the public or on the street somewhere, I am Jaime Laurita … not Jaime Manzo… Love, gratitude, and thank you!
Follow Jaime on twitter!