i am sure i’m not alone in this but…i have been long obsessed with ina garten, the barefoot contessa. i don’t really know when it started, but i venture to guess it coincided with the span of time in my 20s when i was throwing wedding showers and bachelorette weekends round the clock and needed to figure out how to feed these people, and somewhat well. i really think my girlfriends and i all taught ourselves to cook based on her instruction. back in the mid-2000s, the food network was just gaining mainstream popularity and the barefoot contessa show was always, in my opinion, leagues above the rest. everything about it is perfection – a beautiful estate in the hamptons, a host who is equal parts relaxed and sophisticated, scrumptious food that is not too intimidating for any person to make, sensible hostess tips and have you SEEN her gardens where she cuts herbs and flowers??
i mean, amazing. and how could i forget her sweet jeffrey, who always says the dish he’s currently eating is “the best he’s ever had.” what’s not to love! my adoration with ina runs so deep that my girlfriends cooked only ina recipes at my baby shower, just because they knew i would love that (i have the sweetest gal pals).
so when i was trolling her website to see when her next book tour was (must’ve been a slow day), i saw that she had an atlanta date on the calendar and freaked. she has never come to atlanta!! i immediately emailed my friend betsey (fellow ina worshipper) with the subject line of ”OOOOOOOOOOOOOMMMMMMMMMMMMMGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGG!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” and that’s the shorthand version. sometimes you just have to find ways to get your excitement across. in the body of the email was approximately one thousand more exclamation points and capital letters and general heartbeat racing. betsey notes that she is coming to the cobb energy arts centre, where her boss has connections. she tells me thus and goes to see what she can do. well…a day or two later, i get an email forwarded back to me WITH MY SAME SUBJECT LINE. only it’s my email to betsey, forwarded to her boss (a 60-something year old man), forwarded to the general manager of the cobb energy arts centre, some 3-4 responses between him and her boss, and then forwarded back to betsey. i am sure both of those men have never in their lives had an email subject line like that pop up in their inbox. i was only slightly mortified… it was, after all, in the name of INA! betsey was able to secure a block of tickets in the 2nd row (!!!!). fabulous, as ina would say.
betsey planned the cutest preparty on her patio around the fire pit with wine, prosecco and ina dishes galore. i made her jalapeno cheddar crackers and they are always a crowd pleaser! my favorite part about them is that you can make the dough and either freeze or refrigerate it and then just bake it when you need to. and they are SO good!
i am kicking myself because i took nary a photograph at the preparty…i was just so excited!! so many fun girlfriends, nibbles, aperitifs and stories to hear. we departed for the theater, got a cocktail (we felt like that’s what ina would have wanted), slipped into our seats and listened with rapt attention to ina herself. it was FANTASTIC.
she started out by telling the story how she came to own the barefoot contessa specialty food store in the hamptons. she didn’t know quite what she wanted to do after her gig in washington, and was cruising the business classifieds in the times when she came across the listing for the barefoot contessa store. she and jeffrey went to visit it the next day, and submitted an offer. she expected to negotiate back and forth a bit, but the woman called her the next day and said, “i accept your offer.” ina said she went, “oh sh*t!” there was about a month overlap of the former owner showing her how things run in the store, and then she was on her own, the thursday before memorial day weekend. jeffrey counted up how much money she had made and then calculated it times the number of days they’re open minus their costs and said hmm…i don’t know if this is going to work? the next day, friday before the long weekend, she said that when the store closed at 10 p.m., they did not have an ounce of anything left in the store at all. absolutely everything had been wiped out and sold. and they didn’t know what to do for the rest of the weekend! the next morning, jeffrey heard about a good bakery in a nearby neighborhood – so he went there 1st thing in the morning and bought EVERYTHING THEY HAD. and then did the same thing sunday and monday :) she said the owners of that bakery probably had a great weekend at the beach!
i think she was exactly the way she is on her tv show – which she talked about a good bit. she said that when the food network first called her to say that they were interested in having her do a tv show, she said “lose my number!” she said she didn’t think she could do it. her friend martha (you know…stewart) was doing it at the time, and she thought there was just no way that she was capable of doing that. they kept coming back to her with higher offers and she said “no, no – this is not a negotiation – i just flat out am not interested!” but then they sent her a tape of nigella lawson’s show which was filmed in her house in london, very casual, in a narrative style…and she liked it. what she didn’t know is that the food network had already hired all of the producers from nigella’s show to come and film ina’s show. then they basically told her they were going to do 13 episodes, they would start filming in a month and after that they could talk more. i mean, what would we have done if they had not persevered???? i shudder to think.
some interested tidbits she shared:
- all of the food that she makes on the tv show is eaten by the crew after they’re done shooting. she said she’s a little bit insulted if they don’t all dive in with silverware immediately! oh, and they have professional dishwashers in the show crew. but she says she is the dishwasher in her own house!
- before the show was filmed in her barn, it was literally in her kitchen. jeffrey would move upstairs for 6-8 weeks at a time while they filmed a season (she said he’s a saint!) – but then they bought an adjacent property and built the barn.
- when she was thinking about what to do with her life after her government job (before she got into the food business), jeffrey told her to think about what she really loves to do….and do that. don’t worry about the money, but just do what you really enjoy doing. and be the best you can at that thing. she thought about something with food because she loved cooking for her friends over the years.
- she used to cook really complicated 6-page julia child recipes, until she and jeffrey went to dinner at a single man’s house (she joked that they originally planned to eat beforehand because they thought it was going to be terrible) and he served freshly baked bread and a roasted filet of beef tenderloin, and it was all so simple…but so elegant. she said that man had no idea what an impact he had on her, but it changed the way she thought about cooking forever.
- when asked about encountering celebrities in east hampton and through business, she said that they were always very nice (she specifically mentioned steven spielberg) and did not want any special favors, like not having to wait in line. she heard someone say something once that it’s not how you treat the celebrity…it’s how you treat the person at the table next to them.
- she used to have a vegetable garden, but all of the veggies were getting eaten by animals! so she transitioned it to a flower cutting garden.
- she knew she needed to do something different when someone asked her for a pound of chicken salad and she wanted to cry. she took a year off (i presume this was when she sold the food store) and she said she was dreadfully bored. she would make herself go to her office every morning at 9 a.m. and organize her checkbook or make a grocery list, and one of those would hopefully take all morning. one time when jeffrey was leaving (he works at yale monday-friday every week), she was lamenting how she had nothing to do that week…nothing at all! jeffrey said, “well surely you have something…?” she said “well, i have a manicure on wednesday but that’s it!” i love her. it was then that she decided to write her 1st cookbook.
- she has another cookbook coming out next year, and the general vision is still being worked on. there will be a vanilla and maple cream of wheat recipe though!
- her favorite hostess gift to give is a box of fran’s caramels covered in chocolate. totes ordering some of those stat.
- she uses all white dishes – she thinks they look the best. (i actually registered for all white serving dishes based on this nugget i picked up from ina over the years – they really do look good and are so easy to match)
ok, so she took q&as from the audience and all i have to say is WOW, some people really have a broad range of what they think a good, legitimate question is. but you know – even though we snickered through a couple, if she thought the question was bizarre, you couldn’t tell one bit. my friend margaret and i actually stood in line to ask questions, but they closed the q&a session three people before us. bummer! i was going to say something about how we’re fixing to (how southern – might as well lay it on thick, right) renovate our kitchen* and i’m having a hard time convincing my husband that we NEED a viking range.** we’ve been at odds over it, so i said that i would come here and let you settle it – so tell me ina, is it worth the splurge?
* did i tell you that we are gutting our kitchen? yeah. look for posts on that coming up!
** let me just clarify that unless it cost $1, rbb would never approve a viking range. i have a hard time convincing him that a lamp should cost more than a 20 spot.
all in all, she is exactly what you would expect. warm, funny, smart, and you pretty much want to be her bff. or at least her niece or something. at the end of the show, she signed a few cookbooks and then waved goodbye. it was a wonderful evening! after so many years of adoring ina, it was such a thrill to be there with my girls.
also there, but not pictured: merrell, meredith, sally, margaret, annie, amanda (aka dixie delights) and anna.
SUCH a fun crowd!! i want to do the whole night over again. you know what was most inspirational to me – ina is in her mid 60s and at the top of her game. life is long (if you’re lucky) and it’s never too late to follow a new dream or change courses. just find out what you enjoy, do that, and do the very best you can. fabulous advice, ina.