For her 10th cookbook, Ina Garten gets personal, gathering recipes for her husband of nearly 50 years, Jeffrey Garten, in Cooking for Jeffrey (Clarkson Potter, Oct. 25). He’s dean emeritus at the Yale School of Management, but for devotees of the Barefoot Contessa, Jeffrey is a fan favorite, and Garten’s most constant, affable, and enthusiastic audience.
We chatted with Garten about the new book, her early years with Jeffrey, and the key to a lasting marriage.
Most cookbooks are in some way personal, but this is, I would think, your most personal yet. How did you decide on the concept?
I kind of realized that my whole cooking career has been based on cooking for [Jeffrey], I thought, why not write about it?
What was Jeffrey’s response when you told him the book would be for him?
I’m not even sure! I can’t remember. He’s so supportive it never occurred to me that he wouldn’t have a positive reaction to it. What did surprise me is that everybody, the press, wants to talk to him! I had no idea I’d be engaging him that much.
What has been his reaction to becoming such a fan favorite, through the show?
I think it kind of tickles him. He’s the most generous, humble person I know. He just loves what I do, and he supports it in any way he can. People think he’s just a really nice guy. But he’s had an extraordinary career, starting with writing speeches for Secretary of State Henry Kissinger when he was just 25!
Fans of the show know that there’s a running joke that everything you make is the best thing he’s ever eaten. Is there anything Jeffrey doesn’t like, or that hasn’t been a success?
He remembers one, and I remember one. Over 48 years. I remember making a ground beef and corn casserole. He remembers a seafood stew he said wasn’t all that good. But, if I’m testing recipes, I don’t try something out on him. I wouldn’t just say, “Oh, I have an idea about something,” make it, and then say, “It’s not really that great, so let’s have it for dinner.” If it isn’t great, it isn’t dinner.
Does Jeffrey ever cook, or have any specialties in the kitchen?
He makes really good coffee! As someone once said, smart men know how to make coffee because it helps them think. Coffee is essential.
In the book, you talk about when you were first married, and cooking your way through Julia Childs’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Did you have any kitchen disasters along the way, as you taught yourself to cook?
The one I wrote about years ago is the one party disaster—an omelette party. I did two things wrong: I invited 20 people, which is a really hard number, and I made omelettes for every person. I was in the kitchen the entire time!
You also write about buying the speciality food store in the Hamptons, The Barefoot Contessa, and say that at the start, you thought it may have been a really foolish decision. What were those early days with the store like for you and Jeffrey, who was living in D.C.?
He encouraged me totally to do this. He knew I really wanted to do something on my own. We had to figure out how to go back and forth, he would come up on the weekends [from DC]. It was really only the summer, by the next fall he’d moved to New York. The real problem was that I worked all the time, with a new business. I would work until midnight, sleep for a few hours, and go back at 4 in the morning. It was scary, and it was exciting, but I loved doing it.
Given that the book is like a culinary love letter, it seems appropriate to ask—what do you think is the key to a lasting marriage?
I heard this once, and I think it’s so simple and so true. No matter where he is or I am, he knows I’m the most important thing in his life.
There were years when he lived in Japan, and we’d go back and forth once a month. We had independent lives for awhile. I remember one time something happened with me, and he was on his way to the airport to meet the vice premier of China. And he turned around and came back. We each know what our priorities are, even though we aren’t always together every day. It’s pretty simple, isn’t it?