An Evening with the Barefoot Contessa | My Official {long} Recap

Sunday, March 17, 2013


For those of you that follow me on instagram, you already know I was rather heady with excitement earlier in the week as my mum and I packed up and headed north for a little road trip to see my ultimate celebrity crush and cooking idol, Ina Garten.  As part of her Foolproof book tour she was speaking at select locations around the country in a program called "A Conversation with the Barefoot Contessa."  Truthfully, I had no idea about the event until Jimmy mentioned it to me late last summer. In the past her book tours NEVER come near Cincinnati so I'd given up hope that I'd ever see her close to home.  When he heard about her plans to visit Cleveland, Ohio {about 4 hours north of here} he was on the phone the minute the tickets came on sale and bought two for me.  He made the hotel arrangements, dinner reservations and took off work to watch the boys, all so I could go enjoy myself.  Lucky, I know.

The evening was to include an on stage interview with audience Q&A, followed by a book signing/meet + greet with Ina.  I was very much looking forward to meeting her face to face, gushing a bit about the influence she has had on my cooking, and treating her to something I made.   Ina is like the Julia Child of my generation.  Maybe not for everyone, but certainly for a lot of us.  Next to my mum, Ina has had the biggest impact on not just on how I cook, but also the way I think about food and sharing it with the people I love.  Unfortunately, the book signing was canceled with this event so, regretfully, I did not get my moment with Ina.  I did however bake her something.  {A glazed lemon, blueberry, yogurt loaf cake}  Not one of her recipes, but one that I tried about a month ago and knew she would love.  I packaged up 4 thick slices in a berry crate with a pretty blue linen dish towel and little handmade tag.


I carted that thing into the hotel, in a cab to dinner, sat with it on my lap for the whole presentation and didn't get to hand it to her. I find the whole thing a bit comical.  But I wasn't bringing it all the way to Cleveland and not getting it to her, so after her on stage performance I whistled down a crew member and had him bring it to her.  Not quite the same, and likely not eaten by her, but I'll pretend she sank her teeth into it and said something like "oh wow, this is soooo good. I can really taste the lemon zest and fresh blueberries." hahaha.

{interviewed by Michael Ruhlman, cookbook author + food blogger}

Ok, let's dish a bit... Ina was exactly the same in person as on TV {only prettier}.  Black blouse/pants ensemble and all.   You forget she's a multi millionaire/mega brand and feel like you are listening to a funny aunt.  One of the first things she said was that she knows Jeffrey comes across as a bit of a doofus on TV and she wanted to assure us he is nothing of the sort, that he is very brilliant! So cute. She blushed when she made a remark about the most loving thing you do with your husband {it wasn't cooking}, she said "s@#t" when she talked about her reaction to getting her original offer on the first Barefoot Contessa store.  She shared funny stories about disastrous recipe attempts "herring and beet salad" and a New Year's Eve she spent with Martha Stewart that had me almost crying tears.  Apparently, Martha called Ina at 3:00 pm on New Year's Eve one year and asked her and Jeffrey over for dinner.  By 7:00 pm Martha had an impressive and over the top dinner party.  After dinner she asked Ina to join her in the kitchen to help with dessert.  Ina was puzzled because she already saw a gorgeous lemon meringue cake topped with meringue snowman sitting on the counter.  But there they were, the two of them in the kitchen, Martha bustling about and chatting, all the while melting sugar {no measuring, no thermometer}.  Ina watched as Martha found a whisk and began cutting off the ends, talking and talking as she went through the motions.  And then out of nowhere Martha is swinging her arms around the room making spun sugar to top the cake. Ina said she was in awe and "exhausted" after they left that evening.  Can't you just picture it?

Ina admitted she is still terrified filming each of her TV episodes, that she is always convinced she will forget her recipes and ingredients.  She is not scripted on the show. She said she is naturally a nervous cook and a lot of times "fear" has been the best motivator at different stages in her career.  She enjoys the business side of things as she much as she does the creative/cooking side. This surprised me.  She attributes her success to doing what she loves and luck.  She spent a lot of time talking about the evolution of her brand.  As a former Brand Manager,  I found this part of the talk to be the most fascinating.  She describes the process as a very organic one, saying that she didn't set out to create a brand, but she did set out to create an experience and a feeling {ultimately what a brand is}.  From the moment she started her first shop she wanted the experience of shopping there to be "Fun."  It should "feel like a party."  Ina wants people to feel welcome, loved, and have fun.  That core experience has always been at the heart of what she does, whether as a shop owner, TV personality, or cookbook author. She described stepping into her store, the type of music that was playing, the way coffee and samples were laid out, the way the screen door slammed, how all these elements were intentional on her part, how they all worked together to make the customer feel good.  That same experience is still true in her work today.

Despite all her success and her inspiring lifestyle, Ina still manages to be completely relatable to so many people.  She seems so genuine and real.  Everyone feels like they are her biggest fan, everyone feels like they know her and could sit down and strike up a conversation.  She almost feels like family. Crazy, I know.

I stood in line to ask a question but didn't get called.  I had hoped to get her talking a bit about social media, like food blogging and instagram.  Maybe next time. And there will be a next time, because she is already hard at work on a new cookbook!   True to form, I was far too caught up in enjoying the experience rather than capturing it behind the lens.  I wish I had taken more pictures! The theater district was impressive {second in size only to NYC} and the theater gorgeous.  The restaurant was excellent too, Lola's, in case you find yourself in downtown Cleveland!

21 comments:

  1. What a great evening, I'm sorry you did not get to personally hand her the bread but I know she loved it :). My best friend grew up in Montauck and I was lucky enough to go to The Barefoot Contessa shop when she owned it years ago. It was everything you would imagine it to be and more. Classic Ina all the way. I still remember we got chicken salad, sugar snap peas, a French loaf and coffee and parties. It was simple yet so good. Just like Ina. I love following you on ig, everything you cook looks amazing. I'm so inspired ans plan to dust off my BC cookbooks and start whipping up things this spring. So happy that you and your Mom had a great trip.
    Xoxo
    Nancy

    Ps. Totally random, my Aunt lives in Hudson Ohio which is close to Cleveland

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    1. oh my gosh! how amazing! i would have loved to have visited one of her shops. i hadn't realized she had 3 different locations over the 17 years she was is business. not all open at the same time, but she moved from west to east hampton and grew in space as her business grew. she had more than 40 employees too which surprised me. so interesting to hear her talk. thanks for your kind words!! xo, tessa

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  2. Thanks so much for sharing with us! Sounds like a wonderful evening! What a great husband! (I love your blog and following you on IG!!)

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  3. What a wonderful evening! I JUST bought Foolproof yesterday and am looking forward to trying out some of the foolproof recipes. You husband was such a sweetie to get tickets for you and your mom. So sorry you did not get to give her your bread. I know someone enjoyed it though.
    Loved this post!
    Kelly

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    1. kelly! make the penne vodka and the raspberry bars FAST. my two favorite recipes so far and i've made a lot. she's already hard at work on another new cookbook! xoxo

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  4. Loved reading this, Tessa. Sounds like it was an unforgettable night!

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  5. I loved reading this post. I had the chance to meet Ina during her last book tour, and it was absolutely surreal.

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  6. Hoping to see her in Atlanta this fall. Your blog & IGs convinced me to give Ina a try, & my family has loved all of the results. So, you were a brand manager-explains why your blog posts are always so beautiful in presentation! Thanks for sharing with us!

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  7. What a fun weekend with your mom...and what a great husband you have to make all the plans for you! I think bc is so pretty! I had to laugh because I always think to myself that jeffrey is a little dopey!
    I grew up in Mansfield, Ohio...my family still lives there.

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  8. I got to do that as well on it was an afternoon and not an evening and it was the last book not this one. She was witty and funny and a bit shy I felt. It was an amazing experience and I was so glad to be part of it. She didn't get to "my world" this book but perhaps with the next one -- I'll be in line to get the book so I can see her again. No book signing -- just the conversation but the time before it was a book signing in front of her . . . all of perhaps 3 microseconds are you in front of her as you stammer not the clever thing you practiced as you waited your turn in line but some inane thing that comes babbling out of your mouth! Sigh!

    Glad you got to experience it.

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  10. Hi Tessa! I enjoy your blog and have used so many of your recipes...your oatmeal raisin cookies recipe has probably been made at least 10 times since you posted it. It truly is the best oatmeal raisin cookie ever! I've also made your quiche recipe many times...it was the hit of a meeting of my garden group as it played a starring role for lunch.

    I envy your wonderful visit with Ina...and Cleveland is a wonderful city to have fun in. I have all of her books...and oddly enough, I had just flagged her penne vodka to make tomorrow for dinner...aahhhh, great minds think alike I guess.

    Looking forward to many more of your posts.

    Sheila

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    1. Thank you, Shelia!! Enjoy the pasta!! And try the minestrone soup too while it is still chilly out - excellent! Now I'm craving an oatmeal raisin cookie. xo

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  11. How exciting! What a wonderful evening. Hopefully, some day she will come to Omaha or somewhere near here.

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  12. sorry you didn't get to ask that question! I'd have liked to have heard.

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  13. Aysegul nysdelight - I adore Ina Garten too, what a great way to spend the evening. I'm surprised that they didn't say anything about leaving the gifts you have brought for her. Maybe you should mail it in, that's an idea. Great postings..Aysegul

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  14. Tessa, what a wonderful experience you had! Thank you for recapping the event for those of us who couldn't be there. You always put things together so beautifully ... you're a lot like Ina in that way. I think that you're a blogger I would enjoy meeting one day, as you seem so genuine. Sorry you didn't get to meet Ina in person. I hope that staffer passed along your lovely gift to her. What a sweet gesture that was.
    Claudia

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    1. Thank you so much Claudia!! I always appreciate your sweet and sincere comments! Thank you so much for reading and letting me share a bit of my life with you! xo

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  15. What a neat experience! She does seem very approachable and genuine. I bet she will appreciate your gift :)

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  16. I think the sweetest thing about this whole experience is that your husband set it all up. I love that he did that! And love that you made her something! You have really found a passion in the kitchen. Fun to see! xoxo!

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  17. My daughter's girlfriend is in the film industry. A couple of summers ago they were working at Ina's house for something...I forget what it was...anyway she had dinner for all of them. My daughter's friend said she was the nicest celebrity she's ever met. I live just south of Cleveland. I didn't know about this event...rats. Lola's is one of my favorite places. There are so many nice places to pick in the area now. Thank you for all the detail.

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