On the dust jacket of Ina Garten's new cookbook, she is described as one of the country's most beloved culinary icons. One reason she's so adored is that non-cooks love her, too.
Why else would
Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics
(Clarkson Potter, $35) list the contact information for the architect of her new barn and where she got its outdoor sconces? It's why, sandwiched between recipes for tagliarelle with truffle butter and maple-roasted butternut squash, she posts a 10-tip checklist for how to "set a table like a pro."
Anyone who watches her Food Network show,
, knows that Garten, a former caterer and gourmet-shop owner in the Hamptons, is about more than the food.
Viewers see an entertaining lifestyle that includes what flowers to put on the table, how to set up a buffet, and even how to design a kitchen and organize a pantry.
Nearly every episode shows wide-angle views of her home with plenty of effortless-looking touches to emulate: the black-and-white photographs on the living room mantel, the built-in bookshelves in the dining room, the country-chic furniture and beautiful English-type gardens.
Her style is so appealing to so many that her book signings are huge events.
"I like to think I'm not giving you something, I'm teaching you something," Garten, 60, said recently when asked about her popularity. "I've empowered people to do it for themselves."
The new barn is actually her office for a growing Barefoot Contessa empire that now encompasses six cookbooks, the TV show, a column for House Beautiful magazine, and a line of packaged gourmet food and mixes.
It's a lot for a woman who makes business decisions specifically to avoid becoming a celebrity, unlike many Food Network hosts.
Her Paris apartment is where she goes to relax, with a no-work vow. But with her growing success, home and work were blurring together at the brown shingle house in East Hampton, N.Y
"I really wanted to go to an office," she says.
The barn is on a one-acre parcel next door. Before she bought the vacant property, she'd stare at it all the time and once a year would write a note to the property owner in North Carolina, asking him to let her know if he ever wanted to sell. Each year, he would politely decline. Then, in 2005, he called her.
The 2,000-square-foot barn was finished last year. The show is filmed in an open living and kitchen area with an 18-foot-long island topped with Belgian stone counters in charcoal (a good color for TV because it makes limes and other vibrant foods "pop," she says).
There are two Sub-Zero refrigerators, two Bosch dishwashers, one stainless-steel sink from Waterworks, and one Viking range, so Garten and her longtime assistant, Barbara Libath, can work together. Nowhere will you find a convection oven, wood-burning stove, or any other equipment that the typical fan doesn't have at home.
A favorite item in the new place is a tall wicker basket at the end of the island. She slips oven racks, large cookie sheets and cutting boards in there when they're not in use. She bought hers at Axel Vervoordt Antiques in Belgium. The barn also has a bedroom, bath, dressing area and a small office.
During an interview, Garten expressed surprise at the mammoth crowds that greet her at every stop on the book tour. Her fans love knowing the Hamptons lifestyle, but most of them don't live it. And they are searching for ways to enjoy the holidays in a battered economy.
She has some advice.
"Instead of going out to dinner, buy good food," she says. "Cooking at home shows such affection" for the people you love.