Ina Garten, the serene, soft-spoken siren of the kitchen, has enticed viewers with her simple no-fail recipes and love of entertaining. The Emmy-winning star of the Food Network’s Barefoot Contessa and best-selling cookbook author has a science background. She worked in Washington, D.C., as a nuclear policy analyst for the federal government before changing the trajectory of her career. At 65, she continues to write cookbooks, host her show and develop new products.
Q. So did it take a while for you to adjust to the life of a television personality?
A. I’m not sure what that means, but I love what I do. I love writing cookbooks and it has just been great.
Q. I suppose I am asking if you miss your anonymity?
A. You know, I live a pretty quiet life because I’m not in New York around the Food Network hubbub. I live in East Hampton. It’s pretty quiet here. I live in a small town and it’s just the way I like it.
Q. You seem to be a very highly motivated person. What drives you?
A. The truth is, I think of myself as fairly lazy. I just can’t get myself to do something I don’t want to do. So I’ve structured my whole life around things that I really love doing, so I don’t think it’s work.
Q. Some people can identify flavors easily and you have said flavor is important to you. So was that ability something you developed or have you always had a sensitive palate?
A. I have always found that I am searching for flavor. In fact, I don’t think I’m a great cook. I think I’m a great taster. I know when something tastes right, and I know when it can be better.
Q. Do you think of yourself as a risk taker?
A. Yes, but calculated risk. I push myself at various stages in my professional life to just jump off a cliff and figure it out because I have a very, very low threshold of boredom.
Q. You took the big leap when you left business school and bought Barefoot Contessa and just went for it.
A. It seems like a risk looking back, but in fact I felt like I couldn’t work in the government one more minute. So it’s a balance between risk and avoidance.
Q. What do you make of the popularity of cooking shows that use butter, sugar and salt with so many people being gluten-free or vegan or low-sodium or sugar-free or living under other diet restrictions?
A. I think people want to eat good food. It’s probably more quantity than anything. I know very thin, very fit people and they eat butter and sugar. It’s a matter of how much and how you balance it.
Q. Another popular genre on television is the food competition. Do you see cooking as a competitive sport?
A. I think that’s entertainment. That is very different from what I do. My whole thing is about giving people the tools to do things themselves. So if you can read a cookbook, you can make a good roast chicken for your family and you feel good about that. You’ve made a really nice meal for people and they’ve shown up at the dinner table, which I think is a really important component of cooking – that people show up and you connect with them.