10 Things You Didn’t Know About the Barefoot Contessa

by in Food Network Chef, October 31st, 2012

Ina GartenHer fame may be relatively quiet — she doesn’t have a line of cookware, there isn’t a namesake restaurant — but make no mistake: Ina Garten is a powerhouse celeb chef.

Fans know her story well: From a White House budget analyst to specialty food-store owner, her path to stardom has been slow and steady. In 1978 she bought the Barefoot Contessa in East Hampton; after 20 years she quit and sold it to the employees, only then embarking on cookbooks. Her first was published in 1999.

Now, with her eighth cookbook (Barefoot Contessa: Foolproof ) out and her show entering its 11th year, the publicity-shy chef has plenty to dish about. Here are the highlights from her (packed) appearance at the New York City Wine & Food Festival‘s Grand Tasting event.

1. She cooks only from her cookbooks. “I trust them,” she says. And after all these years, she still prefers a recipe over winging it. “I’m a science person. I measure everything.”

2. She’s never watched herself on TV. “I couldn’t possibly. If I watched a show, I don’t think I’d ever do it again,” she laughs. “Filming is still the most frightening thing I’ve done. It’s just sheer terror. I haven’t gotten used to it yet.”

3. She eschews fancy foods. “When I did fancy things in the store, nobody really bought them. People wanted roast chicken and roasted carrots. I’m inspired by specialty food-store recipes as opposed to restaurants.” For dinner parties, her go-to meal is equally simple: whiskey sours, rack of lamb and orzo with roasted vegetables. “Everyone loves it. It never fails.”

4. She refuses to endorse products. “I’ve been asked to do everything from dining tables to clothing — who would want me to do their clothing? — to soy sauce,” she says. “Yesterday I was asked to do something with the United Nations. I mean, solve the problems of the world? Yeah, I’ll make everyone chicken pot pie and they’ll be happy [laughs]!”

5. She works only with friends. “A lot of people have asked to be guests, but I really keep it to friends. I don’t think you can fake a party,” she says. A new and notable favorite: Tina Fey.  “She’s wonderful. She’s everything you think she is and gorgeous to boot.”

6. She admires Bobby Flay. “How does he do it? He blows me away. He has restaurants all over the world, cookbooks, television shows. I can’t imagine how he does it, and he does them all well,” she says.

7. She doesn’t cook for herself. “Cooking is a sharing thing; it’s not about the cooking itself,” she says. “If I’m by myself, I’ll have fruit, yogurt and granola or get soup from somewhere nearby, like Loaves & Fishes.”

8. She’s happily type A. “I’m satisfied when something is done very well. I feel I need to have my hands in it. My publisher will tell you that there isn’t a font or color or recipe or ingredient I haven’t been involved with. I don’t have a lot of people around me; I do it all myself, so that limits what I can do. But for me, I find that very satisfying.”

9. She’s more pop savvy than you’d think. “I’m a huge Taylor Swift fan,” she admits. And her favorite shows? Serial dramas, like Homeland.

10. She loves Thanksgiving. “It’s my favorite meal to make each year,” she says. On this year’s menu: Accidental Turkey from Foolproof, spinach gratin, truffle mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie with rum. “Booze is always my secret weapon!” she jokes.

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Comments (319)

  1. bettilou says:

    Love Ina she seems so relaxed in cooking and makes everything look oh so simple. Love jeff's resactionto all her surprises.

  2. aws92 says:

    It is because Ina is so real that I love her. I am happy to know that she would rather follow recipes rather than "wing it." I am not an intuitive cook so I need cookbooks-especially Ina's. Thank you Ina. You have been inspiring me from Day 1 :)

  3. Alice says:

    Love your show, love your way of cooking, love doing your recipes, You make fancy type foods easy to make, Please never leave F/N

  4. Carol Sargent says:

    Ina is my "favorite"! I am so obsessed with her show that I have it recorded every time it airs…so I can watch it when I'm alone and can really pay attention. Honestly, right now I have 28 shows to catch up on. She is the only chef that I record all the series. I have three of her books, (Family Style, Back to Basics, and How easy it that?) and am anxious to get her latest "Foolproof". I think her secret for success is just being genuine! I get the feeling that she is very loved by all who have the privledge to know her. After all her years of experience, she really pays attention to what people like and want…and that gives her the confidence she needs to keep pleasing us week after week. Please keep teaching us for years to come!

  5. Linda Busselman says:

    Ina, I am now watching children for a living,in other word doesn't,t provide much money but they sure can make you laugh. You are doing such a great job sometimes I am able to watch what you are making but can,t hear to much of what you are saying because the children are being a little loud. But you really make my day. With your bright and cheerful sprit thanks linda

  6. Jude Iverson says:

    I operate a very small B&B in rural North Dakota. And, yes, there are people who visit and travel throughout our state! The majority of my recipes are from Ina. Love her and have never had an unhappy guest. Even got a 5 star rating from a California guest once!

  7. Pat says:

    I was horrified to turn on my TV at 4 PM as usual and see that awful "The Kitchen" show on instead of Ina.

    The only person on that show who isn't annoying is Jeff Mauro.

    Bring back Ina!!!

  8. nicole says:

    lol…I love when she says that!

  9. @HarleyChi says:

    Ina has never said "flowers are boring". IN fact, as any fan of her show knows, her favorite flower color is orange (as she so often uses flowers to decorate her table). One of her best friends has a flower shop in town and he is frequently featured on her show, with either her at the shop purchasing or him delivering to her home to decorate with….you guessed it….flowers.
    Would appreciate some facts here as in a citation of the show date, time, etc.

  10. Anna S says:

    Are you kidding me? Ina loves flowers. She always has a lot of them on her table especially if she has formal parties. She has a friend who frequently arrange the flower for her but she sometimes do it herself and picks the flowers from her own garden,
    Why would you blame Ina if your flower business is not doing well? You are barking at the wrong tree, Dear. She helped a lot of families with her easy and delicious recipes. I myself learned how to bake because of her. Gretchen, you are wrong about Ina. She never said that flowers are boring.

  11. Twinkle Starr Martin says:

    I can't imagine Ina ever saying that about flowers…She has a very good friend who does her flowers and she has always loved the simple arrangement's that he makes and does so well….you must have misunderstood her…..look in all her books ……

  12. Joyce Fuentes says:

    I am sure you misunderstood Ina. If you watched her show you would see that she has flowers on her tables as she serves her meals and she also has flowers outside. Please there is enough animosity in this world without people attacking others, "Don't you think? From a 66 year old lady from Texas. Please forgive and forget or call her and I am sure if you did not misunderstand she will explain herself. Enough said. God Bless you Gretchen and have a wonderful week.

  13. Marcia says:

    Dear Gretchen, I think you took the comment out of context. If you have watched Ina's show more than a couple times I think you would have heard her go on at times of the beauty of the flowers and floral arrangements especially those her Florist Friends in the Hamptons do, and calls on them frequently for there expertise. You comment is uncouth and childish. Do you really think that her one time opinion of flowers is going to change the minds of all who watch or in anyway affect your business or your friends? Fellow flower lover and Cater and faithful Food Network fan.

  14. Joseph in Altanta says:

    Are you for real, or just been sniffing, oasis dust?? Ina is the QUEEN of the Food Network channel AND don"t blame her for your not so profitable flower business..

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