It must be nice to live like Ina Garten – study cuisine in France like Julia Child, marry the Dean of Dartmouth, build a kitchen and home of your dreams in the Hamptons – I mean, what could be better than that?
Lately, I can’t get enough of the Barefoot Contessa. I watched her make a fresh arugula salad the other day with toasted walnuts, plum tomatoes and granny smith apples and practically salivated all over myself. I wanted a salad so badly afterward, that I made my own. And although my bright green spinach, diced avocado, Fuji apple and strawberry version was without the luxury of farm stand freshness, I can bet my salad was just as good.
The thing I love about Ina is that she truly loves food. If she had an hour to talk about the graffiti eggplant in her farm basket she would have – especially if it meant dining outside over a drink with Jeffrey. You can imagine how jealous I was two seasons ago when Food Network Star contestants were invited to dinner at Ina’s Hampton palace – but between her walk-in pantry and giant garden fortress, I may have passed out before the hors d’oeuvres. After all, Ina is my culinary guru.
Watching Ina can be confusing though. One day I’ll watch Back to Basics and convince myself that I should own a bakery. Other times, I decide no – I’m going to move out West, join my cousins, and build a life working on their farm in Illinois. The whole moving to Paris to go to cooking school seems just a wee bit out of the question.
I think of Ina as a modern day Julia. Even with the deep pockets of Jeffrey’s dress coat, Ina has built an admirable career for herself, beginning with a tiny bakery in East Hampton called (as we all know) the Barefoot Contessa. Food Network found her, gave her a cooking show, and now, her products can be found at every specialty foods shop across the U.S. And like Julia, butter is not an ingredient Ina uses lightly – her boxed Outrageous Brownie mix sells for $6.95 a box and calls for 1 lb. of unsalted butter. Not that bad for 20 servings, but clearly, you are going to eat way more than one brownie.
I find that everything Ina makes I want to eat – immediately. Roast chicken, stewed tomatoes, watermelon salad, chicken curry salad…I’d have to multiply myself times three just to eat an entire serving. Ina’s excessive cooking – she dropped about a pound of cubed feta in that watermelon salad – is a bit much for me sometimes. But what I do love is her simplicity, and ability to turn a dish that appears on every Italian menu like Caesar salad, and make it gourmet and delicious.
Although I think Julia nailed it with her high-pitched, “Don’t be ahfraiiid,” Ina has a similar method of modesty in the kitchen. I’ve never felt like I couldn’t make what Ina made, or that because I don’t have a farm basket delivered to my door every week that I can’t use plain old grocery store produce. I wish of course, that I had heirloom tomatoes at the tips of my fingertips and expensive California olive oil in my pantry, but Ina convinces me that I’ll be just fine with what I’ve got.
And to me, that’s what good cooking is all about.