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She is as lovely in person as she is on TV

Posted by Sheryl Julian  October 29, 2010 02:59 PM

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I caught up with Ina Garten, aka Barefoot Contessa, at the Four Seasons this morning, before she headed off to Williams-Sonoma to sign her latest book, "Barefoot Contessa How Easy is That?" When she signs book, she says, between 1,500 and 2,000 people show up. Sometimes they fly in from other cities to stand in line for hours. Garten, who grew up in Stamford, Conn., thinks she understands why. "They come up to me and say, 'I love you. I love your spinach gratin,' " she says. "I've given them tools to feel good about themselves." She has been greeted by 6-year-old boys who watch her on TV and present her with flowers.

Before she became a professional cook, Garten worked at the White House Office of Budget and Management. Her husband Jeffrey, whom she has known since she was 15 -- "I don't remember a time when I didn't know him," she says -- is former head of Yale School of Management, where he still teaches.

So Garten decided to buy a small shop in East Hampton for $20,000, and began a career as the Barefoot Contessa that would take her onto the Food Network and into the baking mix business (brownies and other goodies are made by Stonewall Kitchen in York, Maine).

When she decided to write "The Barefoot Contessa," she tested all the recipes, hired a photographer (one she found through Susan Spungen, formerly of Martha Stewart magazine, where both had worked), a food stylist, a prop stylist, and used her own kitchen to cook and shoot. Then she hired her own publicist. "As long as I was doing it, I put everything I had into that book," she says. It cost her $200,000 of her own money. "It was all the money we had at the time," she says. "And who sells $200,000 worth of books?" Well, she did.

She wrote five more books, does 20 shows a year for the Food Network, who agreed to hire Nigella Lawson's crew from England, whom Garten has worked with for nine years. Three years ago, she bought the neighboring property in East Hampton and built a big barn, where she works, photographs, and shoots TV shows. "It's not a set; it's where I live and work."

Garten shot a holiday special with her crew in London, which is airing soon. She's also working on an e-book version of her latest volume, due out around Thanksgiving, so you can find recipes and flip through the pages as if you had the book in front of you. If you click on an ingredients, you might find the brand of olive oil she prefers, or a photo of celeriac, so you can see what it looks like.

"My whole goal is that when you're making something, you put it on the table and people say, 'You made that?' "

About Dishing

What's cooking in the world of food.


Sheryl Julian, the Globe's Food Editor, writes regularly for the Food section.

Devra First is the Globe's food reporter and restaurant critic. Her reviews appear weekly in the Food section.

Ellen Bhang reviews Cheap Eats restaurants for the Globe and writes about wine.

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