Here is how Ina Garten described her style of cooking: â€œItâ€™s simple and elegant. I like things that are the essential flavors theyâ€™re supposed to be, but they taste better than you expect.â€
Garten is the past owner of the renowned Hamptons fine food store the Barefoot Contessa; the author of 12 best-selling cookbooks, with a 13th, â€œGo-To Dinners,â€ out in October; and the host of â€œBarefoot Contessa,â€ a legacy program on the Food Network. She was speaking, via video call, from her sleek studio kitchen in the barn adjacent to her East Hampton, N.Y., home.
She looked simple and elegant herself, in a denim work shirt and a blue-and-white silk scarf. A vase of orange ranunculus peeked out behind her, heralding spring. Her husband and occasional co-star, the economist Jeffrey Garten, remained offscreen.
She is not, by her own admission, a trained cook, and yet she has built a multimillion-dollar business selling her version of elevated, comforting home cookery â€” roast chicken, roast carrots, caramelized apple tart. Even in private, she follows her own recipes to the letter. â€œI donâ€™t want to just throw things in,â€ she said. â€œIâ€™m really a scientist.â€
Another woman might rest on her homegrown laurels and pour herself an outsize cosmo, but Garten had recently finished shooting a new show, â€œBe My Guest with Ina Garten.â€ An hourlong version, featuring interviews with the likes of Julianna Margulies and Willie Geist, will debut on March 26 on Discovery+. A half-hour, food-focused version will run on the Food Network. Thereâ€™s a companion podcast, too.
â€œI want it to be like youâ€™re at a great dinner party. And youâ€™re listening to a conversation that the people next to you are having,â€ she said.
What should a viewer eat and drink while enjoying it? Garten recommended toast with goat cheese and fig jam and a glass of Chablis.
In an hourlong conversation, Garten â€” brisk, sociable â€” discussed her passion for French butter, Nordic dramas and a very American musical. These are edited excerpts.
1. Cafes in Paris Any cafe really, with a crÃ¨me and a tartine. A crÃ¨me is a French cappuccino and a tartine is toasted baguette with butter and jam. Jeffrey and I went to France in 1971, on a four-month camping trip all around Europe, and all we could afford was crÃ¨me and tartine. Itâ€™s more than just the food, though, of course, French butter is just so wonderful. Itâ€™s the whole experience of hanging out in the cafe. I guarantee you canâ€™t be unhappy while youâ€™re doing it.
2. â€œHamiltonâ€ I went a few months after it opened. Everybody said it was the best thing theyâ€™d ever seen in their lives. I thought nothing could possibly be that good. Within 10 minutes, I was like, oh, my God, this is the best thing Iâ€™ve ever seen. I can never understand rap music, but I understood every word. I brought my whole team for Christmas one year. At the intermission, the stage manager came by and said, â€œWould you like to come backstage?â€ I was like, but why? And he said, â€œAaron Burr is in love with you.â€ I donâ€™t think Iâ€™ll ever forget that.
3. Scandinavian TV I love the scenery. I love the people. They all look like supermodels. And there are no pyrotechnics, no fancy visual effects. Itâ€™s just great stories. One that we like a lot is â€œThicker Than Water,â€ which is a story about a family that has a inn on an island off of Stockholm. And we just actually finished one called â€œAcquitted.â€ The main character was accused of a murder and acquitted. But everybody in the town believes that he did it anyway.
4. Old black-and-white photographs I love collecting photographs. Iâ€™m redoing the house and putting up a series of black-and-white photographs â€” a few Cecil Beatons, a Richard Avedon photograph, a Patrick Demarchelier. I like things that arenâ€™t tricked up. Thereâ€™s something about black and white that just has a very glamorous style to it.
5. Public gardens I love to visit public gardens like Sissinghurst and Villandry, just for inspiration. I go there and I think, I can do this in the side yard! Which I canâ€™t, of course. At Sissinghurst, thereâ€™s one part thatâ€™s just a white garden, only white flowers. Itâ€™s extraordinary. Villandry is at a chateau in France. It has to be 50 acres and itâ€™s all parterres with vegetables and flowers. Itâ€™s the most high-maintenance garden I can possibly imagine.
6. Personal memoir This past year, I read Frank Bruniâ€™s â€œThe Beauty of Dusk.â€ Itâ€™s just stunning how he shifted his consciousness because of his impairment. And I thought Michelle Obamaâ€™s â€œBecomingâ€ was amazing, because you really get to live what it was like to grow up on the South Side of Chicago, as a young Black girl who wanted to succeed. And â€œFinding Freedomâ€ by Erin French is an astonishing tale of resiliency.
7. Hitchcock thrillers I love any Hitchcock movie. Theyâ€™re so character-driven. So glamorous. Just wonderful fantasies. â€œDial M for Murderâ€ is always on the top of my list. Because every frame moves the story along. Itâ€™s so quiet in a nice way and yet so suspenseful. He really understands suspense!
8. Malcolm Gladwellâ€™s Revisionist History Itâ€™s a podcast about things we think we understand, but, really, we donâ€™t. I like the way he approaches things with skepticism. And I like his voice. I do like his voice. I listen in the car, driving to and from New York each week.
9. Lilia Itâ€™s a very casual, very approachable kind of restaurant; itâ€™s not fancy. But Missy Robbinsâ€™s food is so extraordinarily flavorful and fresh and seasonal. I mean, itâ€™s a problem. I just canâ€™t stop. I love that itâ€™s all shared. And there are things that are not on the menu that if youâ€™re kind of in the know, you can order. Like a steak thatâ€™s just fabulous that we ended up making ourselves sick on.
10. Her Mini Cooper Jeffrey got me the Mini one day. I thought, â€œThis is the best present ever.â€ We work a lot, and weâ€™re always under a lot of pressure, but we raise up the garage door and we back out, the top is down and weâ€™re out of there! It just feels like summer. We just love to take a ride to Montauk and have a cocktail out on the water and drive home.