Hello. My name is Samantha and I am addicted to “The Barefoot Contessa.”
I’ve never been one to get excited about celebrities, but I found myself starstruck – completely and utterly starstruck – on Monday as I shook the hand of Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa herself. Ms. Garten was present for a book signing of her newest cookbook “How Easy Is That?” at Crate and Barrel in the city on Monday. I had known about the book signing for weeks and was actually trying to talk myself out of it the night before. I kept saying to myself, why on earth do you want to go pay full price for a cookbook that has already been published multiple times (more on that later) and contribute to the tremendous fortune of a woman who lives a very charmed life in the Hamptons surrounded by her posse of gay confidants, cooking roast chicken for her Keebler Elf hubby?
Because! I finally screamed (in my head, of course), I LOVE INA!!!!! It’s true and I’m not going to hide it any longer. I. Love. Ina Garten. There. I said it again. As a matter of fact, I told her I loved her and I think she was slightly weirded-out but mostly flattered.
To be completely frank, I’ve been a fan of Ina Garten for some time. When I was in college, coming home and watching “Barefoot Contessa” was one of my favorite past-times. But since beginning culinary school, I’ve felt a bit ashamed to admit to my Ina adoration because she’s not what many consider a “serious” chef, or even a chef at all. Many people find her uppity and elitist and her food philosophy shallow. I don’t completely disagree with many of those claims, however, I do disagree with those who believe she is not a serious cook. Despite her lack of professional training, Ms. Garten really does understand food and flavors. And just look at the empire she has created – no amateur could pull that off.
I think the biggest reason for my Ina admiration is because she has developed a real sense of style and method. She’ll be the first to admit that she’s not the most knowledgeable person about cooking in the world, but she manages to create a sense of ease and confidence about her as she works. I fully believe that she tests, experiments and plays as much as she says she does. She may not make the most complicated food in the world, but quite frankly, most of us don’t want to eat complicated food most of the time. I also respect that she doesn’t sign up for a million shows, have her own magazine, her own line of cookware, her own paint collection or her own line of lingerie. In other words, she doesn’t try to spread herself over every possible media outlet available.
My biggest beef with Ina is that, as I mentioned earlier, part of her empire is built on recycling recipes. Now, I realize the word “original” is a loaded word. Chefs – and creative people in general for that matter – are constantly borrowing, tweaking, riffing on something done by someone previously. However, Ina does it in such a way that is sort of painfully apparent at times, particularly in her latest book. As I was leafing through “How Easy,” I kept stumbling on recipes that seemed all too familiar. Here is a comparison between “How Easy” and “Back to Basics,” which was published in 2008.
“How Easy Is That?”
Stilton & Walnut Crackers, Wild Rice Salad, Lemon Chicken Breasts, Caesar-Roasted Swordfish, Roasted Butternut Squash, Pesto, Rich Celery Root Puree
“Back to Basics”
Parmesan & Thyme Crackers, Orange Pecan Wild Rice, Tuscan Lemon Chicken, Indonesian Grilled Swordfish, Maple-Roasted Butternut Squash, Pesto, Celery Root & Apple Puree
I’ve noticed this deja-vu syndrome in many of her other publications as well. Ina is certainly not the only cookbook writer to do this, but I just thought it interesting to point out. Ina isn’t perfect. But I still love her!
I also wanted to take this opportunity to review Tartine Bread by Chad Robertson with photographs by Eric Wolfinger. This book is one of the most exquisitely photographed and thorough books I have ever read. Tartine Bread functions as both a cookbook, an autobiography and a history of Tartine Bakery, the famed bakery in San Fransisco known for its crusty, old world-style loaves. Chad Robertson completely seduces you as he takes you back in time to his first bread-baking apprenticeship with Richard Bourdon and then in France with Daniel Colin and Patrick Le Port. Early to rise, late to bed, kneading, shaping, scraping, loading – the endless, physical days of a baker come alive in Robertson’s writing and the descriptions of the French countryside make you begin to question why you aren’t packing to leave for the alpes right now.
In my mind, this book is truly a masterpiece and deserves to be called more than a cookbook. It is a definite labor of love and despite the years it took Robertson to master his own personal bread-making style, he lays it out for the reader so simply and completely that it seems effortless. Plus, the book cover is slightly cushy so when you lift it, it makes you think about holding a loaf of bread…maybe that’s just me. You won’t regret giving this, or getting this, book for Christmas. Speaking of which, I have exactly two weeks before I leave for holiday break and exactly three days left of Level Four in the program. Three days. How did that happen? In Levels Five & Six, I will be working in the kitchen of L’Ecole – the restaurant attached to my school. I am so excited and also incredibly nervous to be moving into the final weeks of my program. I will be cooking for actual customers now – not just my chefs and fellow classmates. The end is in sight and a new set of recipes, a new kitchen and I’m sure new techniques will be here sooner than later. As Ina would say, how bad can that be?