Open Letter to the Barefoot Contessa, Ina Garten

by Maggie Battista on November 12, 2008

in Authors, Chefs

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…


Dear Contessa,

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.

Kisses,
Maggie B.

Maggie Battista

Founder at Eat Boutique
Maggie, is the founder of Eat Boutique. She started Eat Boutique as a blog in 2007, and sold out of her first gift box of small batch independent food in 2009. Maggie continues to offer unique and delicious handmade food in tasting subscriptions and seasonal gift boxes for food fans and home cooks. Maggie also hosts Eat Boutique Markets, where she spotlights cookbook authors and food makers. She’s written for Style Me Pretty, Food52, Time Out New York, Spencer Magazine, and writes a cocktail column for the popular wedding blog, Snippet & Ink. Maggie's also created retail experiences for the largest floral and event design company in New England. She regularly travels far distances to find the next great chef, farmer, food maker or host. You can follow her worldwide – and homemade – gastronomic adventures on Twitter at @mizmaggieb or @eatboutique. Maggie's writing her first-ever cookbook Food Gift Love to be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in fall 2015.

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  • http://www.cakespy.com Cakespy

    This is delightful…with just the slightest edge. I met her by accident once, at a trade fair when she was hawking her new line of mixes. I turned a corner and there she was, with a tray of brownies. “Eat this!” She said. It wasn’t a request, it was an order. It was a pretty good brownie though.

    But I digress. :-) I enjoyed this post!

  • http://www.alwaysorderdessert.com Alejandra

    I love this letter! I feel the exact same way. I also recently had the chance to meet Ina at a slightly more intimate gathering at my office (where she was the “guest chef” but did no actual cooking). My plans to say something also went out the window when i met her but agree that she is lovely and elegant.

    And I also must note that I find WS’s policy regarding book signings insufferable… ::sigh::

  • Jim Storer

    Great post Maggie! While I’m glad I didn’t wait in line with 2,000 people, I feel like I WAS there (without the sore feet) because of your post. Thanks for that. And perhaps I’ll add her book to my collection (for 45% off and free shipping from Amazon).

    Jim | @jstorerj

  • Paula Venti

    OH MAGGIE…MY SISTER ALSO WAITED IN LINE FOR 2 HOURS AND LOVED EVERY MINUTE OF IT. SHE REMARKED HOW GRACIOUS INA WAS AND SHE LOOKED WONDERFUL. I LOVED YOUR LETTER AND WILL LIVE MY INA DREAM THRU YOU.
    LOVE THIS WEB SITE
    PAULA FROM WFG

  • Maggie

    I love your site, Cakespy! Her brownie recipe is pretty good, but I must admit I’m not so into her boxed products. Who needs boxes when one can bake from scratch, right?!

    Alejandra, we were all so furious with Williams Sonoma too!

    Hey Jim, when I saw the 45% off on Amazon, I flipped. Her book is a fairly hot seller so I thought it was way soon for a sale, and am considering it for holiday presents! Tho’ nothing can replace the experience of… sore feet…

    Paula, I wish I had known your sister was going, I’d have looked for her! It was quite fun, just a great community experience.

    Thanks for the comments everyone!

  • Rikki

    You KILL me. This letter had me hysterical. I too try so hard to be like her and have had so many people tell me that I look like her. Which as a 33 year old, I do not take kindly to looking like a 65 year old. However, I am still honored.
    I stood in line to meet her 2 years ago at Crate and Barrel and purposely wore a bright pink scarf because I knew she would like it. She stopped as she was going by me ( I was like 5th in line) and said ” Wow, great scarf!!” and like a dork I said ” Thanks,Old Navy a dollar fifty”..mind you she was in her Hermes scarf. When I got up to the line she told me she was going to Old Navy afterwards to find it. All I wanted to say was, can I join you? but some stupid dork laugh came out of me instead. Then I was ushered along with the rest of the drooling, giggling InaHeads that were there.Not before my husband ( who was gracious to stand there with me for 4632047 hours) took plenty of pics of the back of my head as she signed my books. So, thats it. That was My Contessa moment.

  • Gayle R

    Hi Maggie,
    I waited in line and loved every minute. Met wonderful people, tried lovely samples From the Barefoot;s new cookbook. William and Sonoma did a fantastic job organizing this fabulous event. The employees were all very pleasant and very accommodating. The ladies in front of me bought there books at Borders 30% off. Very graciously they were told to take the stickers off. When my time came she was as pleasant, as nice and so down to earth. It was a remarkable moment and glad I attended.
    Gayle
    Paula’s sister

  • http://www.jennb276.wordpress.com Jen B

    Awww…lovely post. Ina seems like a wonderfully gracious hostess (just like you!). So glad you got to meet her – however brief the meeting. I know someday, you will host an event with her, and when that day arrives, I will patiently wait for my invitation in the mail.

  • Sharon K

    I loved your post. I haven’t had the chance to see Ina but feel the same. I told my husband when I saw her show for the first time, “I really think we could be great friends”! That is the sign of a great hostess, to make everyone comfortable. Ina certainly does that.

  • Tyson

    Maggie- great post. Big fan of Ina’s and now more recently, Tyler Florence. Ina is great if you don’t need to eat healty…Butter, cream and cheese are always good!

    Tyson
    @goodridge

  • Krisburke4

    I just came across this. I was also there! I skipped out of work, I work from home, but I am about 20 miles away, and have to be near my computer when big issues come in. It was a quiet morning. I thought I could make it there and back unnoticed, but then I was a bit late, and I saw the giant line, and I started to weigh my options. I bought my cookbook which actually was a gift for mt sister, so that weighed heavily on me. She Introduced me to Ina. This was a big decision!. As I was having the should I stay or should I go conversation in my head, I heard someone shout out my name. It was my sorority sister. She was about 30th in line. Ok so I cut the line and stood with her, but I confessed to Ina when I got in front of her. “I love your show,” I said. “I work from home and break to watch it. I even skipped work and cut the line to see you”. With all the charm you describe above, she leaned in and said, ” we’ll your secret is safe with me”

    • http://www.eatboutique.com Maggie

      I love that story, Kris! She’s just wonderful. Glad we were both there! xox

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