Ina Garten is a former a nuclear policy analyst. (Newscom)
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 Networkís ďBarefoot ContessaĒ 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.
So did it take a while for you to adjust to the life of a television personality?
Iím not sure what that means, but I love what I do. I love writing cookbooks and it has just been great.
I suppose I am asking if you miss your anonymity?
You know, I live a pretty quiet life because Iím not in New York around the Food Network hubbub. I live in East Hampton. Itís pretty quiet here. I live in a small town, and itís just the way I like it.
You seem to be a very highly motivated person. What drives you?
The truth is, I think of myself as fairly lazy. I just canít get myself to do something I donít want to do. So Iíve structured my whole life around things that I really love doing, so I donít think itís work.
But you went for your MBA while you were working in Washington.
I did it because I actually thought I wanted to be in business, but I never finished. ... If I look back at my career and education, I would say I was always working toward where I am now, but didnít really quite realize it.
You were interested in science?
I was ó and thatís what cooking is. I think of it as science, but instead of ending up with hydrochloric acid you end up with like, sour cream coffee cake (laughing). It is so much more appealing. The way I do it is a very scientific approach. I have an idea about something and then I go about testing it. I work until it is exactly what I want it to be.
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?
I have always found that I am searching for flavor. In fact, I donít think Iím a great cook. I think Iím a great taster. I know when something tastes right, and I know when it can be better.
Do you think of yourself as a risk taker?
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.
How did Jeffrey (Gartenís husband) react when you told him what you wanted to do?
He always encouraged me to do what I love. He always said, ďIf you love it, youíll work really hard at it and be good at it.Ē So itís not that he just supported it, heís been a major motivation for me. I grew up in a generation of women who didnít expect to work.
When I was in college, I just assumed Iíd get married and that would be my life. I was just at the cusp of women waking up and saying, ďWait a minute, I could actually have a great life. I can do whatever I want. I can stay home if I want to. I can work if I want to.Ē And I got to do both. I work at home (laughing). I was really lucky that I was in the middle of that change.
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?
I think people want to eat good food. Itís probably more quantity than anything. I know very thin, very fit people and they eat butter and sugar. Itís a matter of how much and how you balance it.
Another popular genre on television is the food competition. Do you see cooking as a competitive sport?
I think thatís 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. Youíve made a really nice meal for people, and theyíve shown up at the dinner table, which I think is a really important component of cooking.