Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to meet Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa. It was an incredibly intimate affair, one I shared with a close friend of mine and about… 2,000 other people. Yes, I was one of THOSE people who waited in line for two hours to purchase copies of her new book “Back to Basics: Fabulous Flavor from Simple Ingredients” and get her signature inside those pretty, pristine, chartreuse-spiked pages.
It was quite the community affair, one that involved sore feet, lots of coffee and loads of gabbing on our attempts, both failures and successes, with the Contessa’s recipes. We exchanged techniques, remembered previous books and familiar recipes, and complained about the rules.
Yes, there were distinct rules to be followed if we wanted our few seconds with the Contessa. First, there was simply no time for her to personalize messages, so a straight signature would have to do. Second, the Contessa would only sign books purchased at the venue. And lastly, we could certainly take photos but could not expect the Contessa to pose for photos. She was a bit busy signing her name 2,000 times.
The crowd that assembled to welcome her to Boston was excited to be in each other’s company but grumpy about her rules. Apparently, we should be so lucky to get a few seconds with her…
Regardless, I must admit, I felt a bit lucky and quite a bit star-struck. The Food Network star was every bit the elegant, gracious home cook you would expect her to be; she radiated the same poise and warmth that comes across in her show. No matter how much we all complained in line, when we met her for those brief moments, we were charmed and delighted. Our issues vanished and we simply smile proudly and broadly, sort of like she did for all those many hours.
Alas, when I did finally step before her, I went radio silent. After two hours’ time spent developing an editorial strategy, when the moment arrived, I had no words to express my excitement, joy and gratitude to her. I think I muttered something about the elegance of her recipes and style and the color chartreuse (my favorite!) and blah blah blah. I probably said the exact same thing the 900 or so before me had uttered (minus the chartreuse bit).
I was so disappointed in myself, so much so that here I am taking a second chance, knowing that while she may miss out on this message, all of you will hear it. And, perhaps, in some bizarre way, saying it here may mean more than saying it to her. So here goes…
May I call you Contessa? I feel like I’ve known you for years, so Contessa somehow sounds appropriate. (Or would you prefer being called Ina? I can do that too.) Either way, consider yourself addressed with the utmost respect and appreciation.
I only have a few moments with you, so I’ll try to be brief. Yes, I know you can’t talk nor pose for photos. (Your handlers are fairly stern, eh?) No worries, I do feel like we’re old enough friends that words and photos are so not necessary. We’ve built a bond that transcends those silly things, no? Yes, all 2000 of us in line feel the same way, but that somehow seems appropriate too, no?
I wanted to express my sincere gratitude for how easy you make everything look. I do adore more complex chefs and the results of their intricate recipes with deep lists of hard-to-find ingredients. But I appreciate your simplicity. You sure know how to make the Hamptons lifestyle seem coordinated, perfect, accessible and attainable. Thanks for that.
In reality, we know it’s nearly impossible to build that lifestyle and while we may strive an entire lifetime, very few of us will have that large estate near the beach, a brand new barn stocked with every possible party necessity and a well-to-do husband who loves everything we put before him. But a girl can dream, right?
And through your show and fabulous on-screen persona, we do dream. You’ve permitted us to think we can have all that and whip up a fancy three-course dinner in under an hour. And for that, I am eternally grateful. I’d dare say that everyone else in line is too.
I may never have the Hamptons estate but frankly, the Hamptons were never really my thing. I have what I need – a home I strive to keep semi-coordinated and clean, a big barn that may be falling apart but oozes the potential for big extravagant parties and a husband that’s well-enough-to-do for me who permits me to experiment ferociously, with your recipes and others, and has made me believe I’m the best cook/entertainer/host on the planet.
So I wanted to thank you for permitting me to believe I could be just like you, in my own little way. I sincerely appreciate how easy you’ve made everything seem, as you’ve resurrected the idea that simplicity is beautiful and that most of us will never, nor would ever want to be Thomas Keller or Wylie Dufresne. (No offense, sirs. Your restaurants and talent are amazing, but I’d prefer to pay a small fortune for one of your meals than do all the training necessary to make those recipes myself. Sipping delicious foams = good thing! Making delicious foam = kinda hard!)
Anyway, we all secretly want to ooze ease, simplicity and charm like you, Contessa. And I don’t really care what Mrs. Julia Child thinks, you do have charm and smothered us with it at the book signing. We were in love and I can only hope that you sensed that underlying amorousness bleeding from our sore, tired feet.
So I thank you. All 2,000 of us thank you. Hell, my husband especially thanks you. And while we may never meet nor exchange actual words, I think you sense our gratitude. And I hope you continue to write these fairly simple, accessible books, though I may skip the waiting in line next time and pick up the book on Amazon, where it’s 45% off. (What’s up with that?)
Anyway, all my love to you and Jeffrey. Oh, and I hope you opt to ‘eat boutique’ more often – there are plenty of young, up-and-coming, indie chefs who could stand to learn a thing or two from your keep-it-simple techniques.
Eat Boutique is an award-winning shop and story-driven recipe site created by Maggie Battista. After hosting pop-up markets for 25,000+ guests, Maggie is now focused on opening her first permanent Eat Boutique–a food-retail concept space with a new way to the very best food. Her second cookbook, A New Way to Food: Recipes That Revamped My Pantry & Made Me Love Me, At Last, will be published by Roost Books/Penguin Random House in 2019. Her first cookbook, Food Gift Love, features more than 100 food gift recipes to make, wrap, and share and is available wherever you find favorite cookbooks.