- Brett Willis
Ina Garten & The Barefoot Contessa
Updated: Oct 21, 2021
I’ll lay this out immediately: I am an actual fan of Ina Garten. Her Food Network cooking show, The Barefoot Contessa, is soothing. Just hearing the show’s dandy piano riff initiates my Pavlovian response. But, truly, the reason that I—and my wife—go back to watching The Barefoot Contessa again and again is the foibles and particularities of Ina and her husband, Jeffrey.
If women roamed in packs, Ina would be an alpha matron. She makes fudgier brownies, showier canapés, and you better believe your mother’s fisherman’s stew would pale against her cioppino. This is not to say that Ina’s recipes are complicated. They are often fairly simple—and the truth is that Ina knows how to simply put together flavorful food. She is also not going to skimp on an ingredient if it makes a dish more delicious. Read: butter often plays a part. To wit, everything Ina makes should be considered comfort food.
If you haven’t seen the show, or if you’ve seen a lot of the show, let me share with you a smattering of my favorite Ina-isms.
“It sounds like a lot of salt, but it’s a big filet.”
READ: It is actually a fuckton of salt. But it’s going to make this dish taste delicious, so just constrict those arteries and shut your gob. Also, her salt-to-pepper ratio is almost invariably 4:1.
“I like to use good (insert food item here).”
READ: It might be good olive oil, or good mayo, or even simply good salt. Ina is a fan of “nice” ingredients. By the way, “good mayo” means Hellman’s, so it’s not always over the top.
“Give it a big stir.”
READ: Just stir it normally.
“Jeffrey loves chicken.”
READ: Friday at the Garten household is chicken night. This is a known item of Contessa lore.
“I invited my friends over to the barn for a dinner party.”
READ: First, “the barn” is an absolutely sick manse out in the Hamptons. Second, Ina’s friends are either the cast of a Broadway musical, her flower guy, or two (honestly very nice-seeming) people where the wife looks like a former Bond girl and the husband looks like Waldorf.
“With round food, use square serving dishes. I think it looks more elegant that way.”
READ: It 100% looks more elegant that way, Ina. You’re crushing it.
“You can use store-bought chicken stock, but I like to make my own. You can just taste the difference.”
READ: You can certainly taste the difference, but this actually represents one of the drawbacks to Ina’s recipes: they ain’t cheap! In her stock, she uses three 5-pound roasting chickens, plus veggies and herbs. The last line of the recipe? Strain the entire contents of the pot through a colander and discard the solids. Yes, three whole chickens just for stock. Anyway, I’m sure it tastes great, but my wallet generally necessitates that I go for store-bought.
“Cook with a wine you’d like to drink.”
READ: Ina is ready to drink at any time of day.
“I think meringue is just fabulous.”
READ: Half of Ina’s desserts are meringues. I’m not a huge meringue fan, so I just kinda sit through these sections. And as happens with involuntary repetition, I probably know her meringue recipe (pour in the sugar slowly, leave it in the oven after baking, etc.) about as well as I know the words to “It’s my life” by Bon Jovi.
“When Jeffrey and I were in Paris…”
READ: Whenever Paris is mentioned, it’s not a remembrance of some once-in-a-lifetime trip. Ina and Jeffrey were probably there last weekend. They are probably going back this weekend.
Two of my genuinely favorite Ina cooking tips?
1: Add lemon/lemon zest to anything. Acidity brightens food, no matter if the dish is savory or sweet.
2: Add coffee to desserts with chocolate in them. The little bit of coffee elevates the chocolate flavor without tasting, at all, like coffee.
And then there’s Jeffrey. Holy shit do I love Jeffrey. Let me be clear, he is an impressive person. He is the Dean Emeritus at the Yale School of Management; he is, without a doubt, excessively wealthy; he has a professional chef for a wife; and he seems like a genuinely nice person. But I would be remiss in my writerly duty if I didn’t mention why it is so fun to watch Jeffrey. Imagine Bilbo Baggins picking out artisanal cheese. Jeffrey drinks cocktails with two hands. He appears, if Ina weren’t there to cook for him, like the type of person who would accidentally microwave a dress shoe. Perhaps this is all jealousy speaking.
This is all jealousy speaking.
Because what you have to know is that Ina and Jeffrey are madly in love. They are the two most visibly in-love people I have ever witnessed. They have no children. Ina just cooks sick-ass food all day and Jeffrey shuffles in from New Haven and says in his Fraggle Rock voice, “Mmmm, that smells good!”
His answer to Ina’s question: what’s your favorite thing that I cook? “The last thing you made for me.” That is cute as the dickens.
Seriously, watch any clip of Ina and Jeffrey together. Ina will just be tittering nonstop. She loves this dude! They have a sick life! They are a couple who I cannot help but harbor warm feelings for.
Good for them. Good for all of us. Good for the Barefoot Contessa.
IN SUMMARY: Why was this a good thing?
I cherish watching The Barefoot Contessa on Saturday mornings with a steaming mug of coffee, reveling in the possibility of all the scrumptious dishes I could prepare.