Ina Garten started out writing nuclear energy budgets in the White House but yearned for something more exciting and creative. She took a risk and answered an ad for ownership of an existing specialty food store in New York called “The Barefoot Contessa,” named after the 1954 Humphrey Bogart and Ava Gardner movie. Here, she was able to share her love of food with others and, for eighteen years, she catered to Hampton’s elite. That was only the prologue to a fascinating career that she never could have imagined.
A SELF-TAUGHT STAR
She sold the store, kept the name, and wrote The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook, published in 1999. It was an instant best-seller. Fast forward to today. She is a celebrated cookbook author and has logged thousands of hours on The Food Network hosting – you guessed it – The Barefoot Contessa, now in its 27th season! In what happens to be the longest-running show on the network, Ina cooks a range of recipes across many cuisines, but she specializes in classic comfort dishes. She also shares fun and stylish hosting tips. This seems like as good a time as any to mention an important tidbit of information; Ina is a self-taught cook, relying on Craig Claiborne’s The New York Times Cookbook and Julia Child’s body of work. She did not take a single cooking class and, in fact, has spoken of being discouraged by her mother of attempting to cook while growing up. Needless to say, her road to culinary stardom was unexpected.
STORE-BOUGHT IS FINE
Ina Garten is proof that you don’t need formal training to make it as a top chef. To date, she is the author of over eleven cookbooks, of which she oversees every single detail from binding to font choices to imagery. Her recipes range from simple to lengthier, more labor-intensive ones, but they are always accessible and yield consistent results. One doesn’t need to be an experienced home cook to make her recipes. She has also championed many store-bought items, something many chefs frown upon, making her relatable to many home cooks around the world. One only needs to type her famous declaration “store-bought is fine” into Google’s search bar to enjoy the numerous Ina-memes that populate.
“Ina is a self-taught cook, relying on Craig Claiborne’s The New York Times Cookbook and Julia Child’s body of work.”
Ina has become a pop culture fixture. She’s taken Seth Meyers day drinking and, at 72 years of age, she has over 2 million followers on Instagram! Perhaps the best thing about Ina Garten’s brand is the diverse group she appeals to. From millennials to middle-class moms to celebrities, Ina is beloved for her bubbly personality and practical approach to cooking.
From millennials to middle-class moms to celebrities, Ina is beloved for her bubbly personality and practical approach to cooking.
COOKING FOR JEFFREY
Ina has said that “one of the great gifts that you can give people is to cook for them” and there is nobody she likes to spoil more than her husband of 52 years, Jeffrey. So much so that she even published a cookbook aptly titled, ‘Cooking For Jeffrey.” More broadly, it’s a kind of love letter to her husband and a celebration of their shared food memories over the years, many of which are in Paris. Included are recipes for Jeffrey’s favourite comfort foods done Ina-style. Moroccan lamb chops, roasted salmon tacos and chocolate brulee are among the offerings but none is as special as Ina’s recipe for roast chicken. It may be humble food but it is a special meal to the couple, traditionally made for dinner every Friday upon Jeffrey’s return home. It is also rumoured to be the recipe that Megan Markle cooked to win over her darling, Harry! Seeing as how Valentine’s Day is this month, maybe you’re thinking of making a romantic dinner. It would seem that roast chicken is a good place to start. Breakfast in bed? Take a page from Ina’s book and have Kir Royales, made with champagne and crème de cassis (served in a homemade vanilla sugar rim, of course.)
“She doesn’t take herself as seriously as Martha, nor does she strive for that level of perfection. A broken eggshell isn’t the end of the world.”
A FEW TAKEAWAYS
Over the years, we’ve learned a thing or two from Ina. Great food doesn’t have to be complicated. There’s absolutely no shame in a sheet pan meal. Keep it simple and spend more time enjoying it with the ones you love. You can make a basic recipe look very sophisticated by how you garnish and plate it. If you are a new cook, it’s even more important that you stick to easy-to-follow recipes and follow them precisely. The time for getting creative is only after you’ve mastered a dish. Seeing as it’s the month of love, with dozens of chocolate desserts begging to be made, we love Ina’s recommendation to add fresh ground coffee to a chocolate mixture, adding more depth to the flavour. Other pearls of wisdom include cooking with what’s in season, only cooking with a wine that you would actually drink, and collecting classic cookbooks for inspiration. It’s fair to say that Garten’s library is well on its way to reaching this distinction.