Secrets from All-Star Chefs
Ina Garten is very clear about what she most loves to do. "People have asked me to produce clothing lines! Furniture!" exclaims the woman known fondly as the Barefoot Contessa, after the specialty-food shop in eastern Long Island, where her career as a chef began in 1978. Garten, 59, would rather stick to creating recipes for simple but sophisticated food and providing advice for casual yet elegant entertaining that couldn't be more appropriate for this time of year. The store may have shuttered its doors, but fans can still order from her new Barefoot Contessa Pantry line of convenience foods via her online site (www.inagarten.com) or choose recipes from her five cookbooks, including her latest, Barefoot Contessa at Home: Everyday Recipes You'll Make Over and Over Again. She also appears on her own Food Network show, called -- you guessed it -- Barefoot Contessa. "I wouldn't want to do too much and forget why I got into this in the first place, which is that I love to have parties with my friends," she says. "I always come back to that."
Ladies' Home Journal: Does your cooking style change in summer?
Ina Garten: I always cook simply -- but even more so now because the produce is so wonderful. I love the first raspberries, the first corn of the season. Many of these items need less actual "cooking" than during colder months -- or none at all. I serve berries with a dollop of creme fraiche or ice cream, for example. Or a simple thing I do with corn is slice it off the cob and saute it in butter, salt, and pepper.
LHJ: So, it's all about ingredients?
IG: And synergy. For example, my ideal summer dessert is peaches with Sauternes, a sweet dessert wine. Peel the fruit and slice it into a bowl; pour in the wine to cover, and let it sit for at least two hours. That's it -- two ingredients that make each other better.
LHJ: How do you typically approach party-giving?
IG: I'm a real planner. You have to make a menu, then decide to cook fewer dishes and cross things off. And don't make more than two things yourself. If you do the main course and a side dish, buy the dessert. Or plan something fun, like do-it-yourself ice cream sodas. Draw up shopping lists, and make a minute-by-minute schedule -- at 5 turn the oven on, at 5:15 put the turkey meat loaf in. The difference between a good party and a bad party has nothing to do with the food. It has all to do with the host and hostess having fun.
LHJ: You're always calm?
IG: Of course, like anybody, if I'm giving a party, my husband knows not to talk to me during the 15 minutes right before guests arrive!
LHJ: What do you say about eating outside?
IG: When I was catering, clients would want to plan outdoor parties for 100. I would ask: "What if it happens to rain or is too hot or cold? Do you have room to move everyone inside at the last minute?"
LHJ: So how do you entertain at this time of year?
IG: I like to serve drinks outside, then everybody comes inside -- no bugs, very easy. You've been outside, but you're not fighting with nature while you eat. And remember, lots of summer foods -- like salads and fruit desserts -- are best at room temperature, which means no standing over the stove or grill at the last minute.
LHJ: What about table decorations?
IG: In summer I love stripes for the tablecloth and casual wildflowers for the centerpiece.
LHJ: You've reinvented yourself a few times -- you've been a Washington, D.C., policy analyst, a store owner, a cookbook writer. Why?
IG: I have a low threshold for boredom. If my work doesn't keep me up at night, it's not interesting. When that happens, I jump off the cliff and learn to fly on the way down. The new direction always turns out to be so much more interesting than the old one. Currently, though, I'd be very happy if my life stayed just like this.