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Anyone who is a fan of the Food Network knows Ina Garten, known as the Barefoot Contessa. The popular cook appeared recently at the Providence Performing Arts Center in conversation with local restauranteur and her friend Johanne Killeen, owner of Al Forno.
The place was completely sold out, like Garten was a rock star, which in the world of food she is. The ladies joked that it was like an episode of James Lipton's Inside the Actor's Studio, which it did sort of resemble.
They reviewed Garten's life, which is familiar to most of her fans. Garten worked for the White House, writing papers on nuclear policy. She was married to the love of her life, Jeffrey, whom fans of her show and many cookbooks know very well. It was so sweet to hear her speak so lovingly about her husband, it is clear what a fabulous match they are.
Garten is a cook, not a trained chef, and learned much of what she knows she learned on her own, through trial and error. She is such an accomplished, determined woman so it is not surprising that she would succeed at cooking.
She was looking for a challenge, and while spending the summer in the Hamptons on Long Island, she found that a small gourmet food shop, The Barefoot Contessa, was for sale. She made a lowball offer, which and Jeffrey figured would not be accepted, but it was.
Now she was the owner of The Barefoot Contessa, with no real restaurant food experience to her name. It was hard work, but with the help of employees, it became a huge success. She told a story of working like crazy on Thanksgiving day, getting out hundreds of orders, then serving a small group Thanksgiving dinner and after that (as if that wasn't exhausting enough) completely redecorating the store for Christmas, decorated trees and all for tomorrow's opening.
My husband and I owned a fast food restaurant in a mall for many years, and all I could think of was us trying to do that on Black Friday. I was exhausted just thinking about it.
Garten also told a funny Martha Stewart story. She had invited eight people, including Martha, for lunch. That is a lot of pressure, serving a luncheon for Martha Stewart. Four people were unable to make it, so they were down to four. After prepping for that, the four people who cancelled showed up on her doorstep, saying they could make it after all, and they had a few extra people in the car with them.
Can you imagine? Garten didn't panic, instead, she smiled and starting splitting the four entrees and salads to make twelve servings. She joked that she and Jeffery ate leftover chicken salad at that meal. That woman is the definition of a cool cookie.
Garten was there promoting her newest cookbook, Foolproof, and she discussed her basic food philosophy, which is to use simple, fresh ingredients to make an enjoyable meal. She said something that really resonated with everyone there: No one will appreciate enough the fact that you spent all day making a complicated meal. You will end up being resentful, so why do it?
She decorates her table simply, but beautifully, and music is always important. When the first guest arrives, there should be lively music playing, so there isn't an awkward silence. Switch to Sinatra or Tony Bennett during the meal, so that everyone can chat and enjoy his or her meal. Always have a nice cocktail beverage ready as well.
The evening was quite enjoyable, and Garten took many questions from the audience. She also had a line of probably more than a hundred people eagerly waiting to get an autographed copy of Garten's book.
The link to Ina's website is here.
I will leave you with a link to my favorite Barefoot Contessa recipe, Chicken Piccata. It's my go-to meal when I have to get dinner on the table in a hurry.
The Barefoot Contessa's Chicken Piccata
The video on how to make it is below:
If you have a favorite Barefoot Contessa recipe, I'd love to hear about it in the comments section below.