PW: Your new book, Barefoot in Paris, attempts to make French food accessible for American home cooks. Why are we so intimidated by that country's cuisine?
Ina Garten: Americans think of French food as very fancy food with very complicated sauces. We became a little more comfortable with it when Julia Child wrote Mastering the Art of French Cooking [in 1970]. But everybody's spent four days making something, and then it was eaten in 15 minutes. I remember when I worked in Washington in the '70s, that's how I learned to cook, with Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I remember taking a week to make one dinner. Nobody has time to cook like that anymore. But the French food that I love is really simple. It's about ingredients that are in season, and cooked just to enhance the flavor of the ingredients. It's about simple food. If there's a sauce, it's done while the food is cooking; the sauce happens in the cooking.
Why shouldn't we be afraid to cook French food?
The French food that we're used to eating is the food we eat in restaurants. The food that people eat at home is very different from what they eat in restaurants. For example, people want roasted chicken with roasted carrots to eat at home, not veal with morels, like they'll find in a restaurant.
What steps have you taken in this book to make French cuisine accessible?
Each recipe has its own style of making something easy. A Vegetable Tian is just slices of potatoes, zucchini and tomatoes baked in a casserole. It's very easy and can be made in advance. And it's great for entertaining. For a Crème Brûlée, just whisk the ingredients together, put them in the dish and bake it. Usually you make a custard first. This is a much easier recipe.
What impact did Julia Child have on French food in America?
She taught a whole generation of people how to cook. It's just stunning, the impact she had on the U.S. People were going toward fast food, prepackaged food and frozen things. She was so counterculture to say, "Guys, wait a minute, it's really important to learn how to cook." We learn how to cook by working our way through her books. She brought back the joy of cooking, and she did it with French food. For example, she would say, "Learn how to make a Hollandaise the old-fashioned way, by whisking it so you understand how the emulsions work. Then learn the shortcut."
How do your recipes for French food differ from Julia Child's?
They're much simpler. I approach things that you can do quickly. All of these recipes are very simple. But that doesn't mean they're not totally delicious.
What are the criteria for a perfect recipe?
I look for three things. One, I have to be able to buy the ingredients in the grocery store. I hate seeing a recipe where you have to go to India for some spice. What's the point? Two, it has to be really easy to make. And three, you can make a lot of it in advance. For example, Meringues Chantilly. You can make the meringues a week in advance, you can make the raspberry sauce in advance, and you can assemble it just before dinner.