What I learned last Tuesday:
RVA loves Ina Garten – at least most all of the people we know. After having to postpone in February, Ina sold out the Carpenter Theater, where I couldn’t turn around without bumping into a friend, Gracious Posse reader, former colleague, fellow volunteer or sports mom. Much to the delight of nearby restaurants Pasture, Juleps, Rappahannock and the new Lucca Enoteca, the predominantly female audience filled with ladies who rarely venture from the suburbs made a pilgrimage downtown to indulge in some pre-program local fare and bake in some real-time wisdom from Ina.
During A Conversation with the Barefoot Contessa, which also included Ina’s author friend Deborah Davis, we quickly realized that Mrs. Garten is one smart cookie. Before diving into the specialty market stockpot, she was a nuclear energy budget analyst for the White House and, in her spare free time, a self-taught cook thanks to Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Her serene demeanor belies a seriously organized mind that also craves fun. The combination is deliciously infectious and has resulted in a wildly successful brand.
Everyone at the theater that night envied Deborah, who is a frequent guest at Ina’s dinner table, and wondered how to score an invitation to a Barefoot Contessa feast. Unable to fulfill such dreams, Ina instead generously shared her tips for creating successful parties of our own. Turns out these common sense tidbits can help you lead a delicious life, too.
- You don’t need fancy kitchen gadgets to cook a great meal. Stick with really good basics: a set of knives, pots & pans, half-sheet pans, a stand mixer (with extra bowls) and a food processor (with extra bowls).
- Plan your table seating in advance: place the most talkative guests across from each other (and in the middle of an oval or rectangular table).
- Only invite people whom you love to dinner, and don’t accept an invitation from someone if you don’t want to invite them back.
- When inviting them to dinner, ask your guests what they don’t eat. Then choose a menu that everyone can eat. This way no one feels uncomfortable.
- The fancier the guest (e.g. your partner’s boss), the earthier the food should be. Make the evening as comfortable and relaxed as possible. Keeping the food simple helps that happen.
- Planning is key. Count backwards and write down when you should do everything.
- Put your guests to work if they ask to help. Just don’t ask them to wash the dishes.
- Mix highbrow with lowbrow food.
- You don’t have to make everything yourself. Pick up a fabulous dessert from a favorite bakery.
- Make having fun your goal: in work, at dinner, in life. Ina’s favorite words to live by:
Work is easy. Fun is hard. – Oscar Wilde
Some of Ina’s own words to live by:
Food is about taking care of ourselves and connecting with people when we sit down to eat with them.
One of the most generous things that you can do is to cook for someone.
If it’s not fun, it’s not done.
You have to get out of the house to find inspiration.
You don’t know what’s in the pond until you jump in. (a/k/a engage then strategize)
I’d love to but I can’t. (a good answer to always have on hand)
Finally the audience couldn’t let Ina go without gleaning some of her favorites:
- pots & pans: All-Clad
- restaurant in Paris: Ellsworth
- homemade dessert: French Apple Tart from Back to Basics
- serving pieces: Hotel Silver
that’s the French Apple Tart
Our posse for the night left the theater inspired to open up any one of Ina’s nine cookbooks* and get cooking. In fact we are planning a GNO featuring Ina’s recipes. We have no doubt the evening will be fun because we will be surrounded by ladies we love – just wish we could persuade Ina to join us.
April 5, 2016
* Ina’s tenth cookbook, Cooking for Jeffrey comes out in October and will no doubt be her biggest seller to date – everyone loves Jeffrey.
**contains affiliate links