During these challenging times, I think our country needs a Minister of Maternal Warmth, and I nominate Ina Garten. I realized recently that, as a foodie, I’ve become myopic inside my foodie-world bubble. I found out recently not everyone knows who Ina Garten (a.k.a. The Barefoot Contessa) is! Oh, if we weren’t living in Pandemia, how I’d love to have them gather around my moss green velvet sectional, with cozy pillows propping their sacrums just so, as I laid out a feast of Castelvetrano olives and chevre surrounded casually with local blueberries (casually as in it seemed like an afterthought, but of course it was not) and a good Barolo to go over the gospel of Ms. Garten.
Look, I’m not being a snob, but, as a foodie, Ina is like air to me. Like a fish in a fish tank, she is part of what I know. In a nutshell, Ina Garten (nee Rosenberg) grew up as a nice Jewish girl. She met her devoted husband, Jeffrey, when she was 14, and they married when she was 20. It shocked me to learn she’d worked in the government in D.C. but eschewed that life to join the culinary community. What she wants to govern is comfort and crudites. She is warm, yes, but she is savvy, with rock solid business acumen. After she expanded Barefoot Contessa and decided to sell to two former employees, she sold the biz but kept the building. She knows how to retain power. For all her sweet and savory goods, she has got the goods – and an empire to boot. Although driven, unlike some successful CEOs, she knows her priorities well. When offered bigger, better deals from corporate media, she said, “no, I don’t want to complicate my life any further.” She knows when enough is enough, whether that is saffron (just a pinch will do you) or her work week, and how to keep it from soaking into precious time with her Jeffrey.
When I think of warmth, I think of Ina. We all want to be connected to her, and we need her, especially now! Rather than wanting to be her, we want to be her child, her friend, or even married to her – that Jeffrey is a lucky man! We want to be around her to soak up her warmth like Frangelico soaked up by angel food cake. In fact, better yet, why not be called “angel” while she whips us up something sumptuous in her Southampton farmhouse kitchen?
She’s never yielded to Hamptons’ pressure to be a size zero and spend her time at Soul Cycle or on a Pilates reformer. She doesn’t need to be reformed; she is Ina! If her body image really bothers her, we’ll never know, but we don’t care because that is not what we need from Ina. We need warmth and care. If you need someone to emulate, you have oodles of that inspo on IG. Nope, while the social X-rays are at pilates or are Melting, she is sniffing rosemary in her garden, and cutting it with the perfect shears she and Jeffrey bought during their last trip to Provence. Is she the Jewish Martha Stewart? No, because Martha doesn’t seem appealing to get hugged by, and has never seemed really happy on a deep level. But Ina is someone who is hamishe. Hamishe is a Yiddish word meaning down home, not formal. That doesn’t mean her table settings aren’t exquisite and soulful and charming. What comes to mind when you hear Barefoot Contessa? Casual + elegant = homey and hamishe. The name captures all things elegant and earthy.
You can be yourself around her. Yes, you should bring a nice gift, but it’s the thought that counts, she tells you without words. Ina represents a care and warmth that everyone wants and needs, even though some stalwarts might not admit it.
In love language parlance, cooking is both a gift and an act of service. We all envy Jeffrey, who looks deeply relaxed, with his needs well nurtured. Their love is traditional but warm. Hey, it works for them. As she once put it, “cooking is one of the great gifts you can give to someone you love.” Perhaps I connect to that because cooking was also my mother’s love language, and perhaps that is why I’m partial to the notion, in theory and practice. Watching her cook is soothing, like a foodie version of ASMR.
Garten can find charm in almost any ingredient, though she did mention recently that she doesn’t like green peppers (same) and that oregano is better dried than fresh (I agree, too strong). She also steers clear of cilantro. “Cilantro…that’s the one thing, I just can’t eat it.” I may not summer in Southampton, but at least we have that in common, a hatred of cilantro. Hey, it’s a start!
Looks like Jen was on to something! Since she wrote this piece, both the U.K and Japan have appointed Ministers of Loneliness.