How To Fix ‘The Barefoot Contessa’

Anyone who’s been reading this blog for the past few years knows that I absolutely love Ina Garten and her show, Barefoot Contessa. Back in the day, the series, which airs on Food Network, focused on Ina assembling some sort of casually sophisticated meal for her friends, many of whom tended to be gays with fixations on things like flowers, the color orange, or old windmills. It was a perfect mix of good food and light narrative. How bad can that be?

Over the years, Barefoot Contessa has developed a quiver of buddies that have become utterly endearing to us viewers. There’s Ina’s adorable husband Jeffrey, there’s best bud Frank, the wily TR, dapper Miguel, sweetly fussy Michael, ornery Barbara Lieberman, choreographer Susan Stroman (affectionately known as Stro), the ladies of Calypso, lovable assistant Barbara, and of course the one and only Anna Pump. These are just a few of the many faces in Ina’s Hamptons universe, and one of the main appeals of Barefoot Contessa is watching Ina interact with this Simpsons-esque stable of characters — all while teaching us great recipes.

Somewhere along the way though, things began to change. Her theme song went jazzy, the term “Back to Basics” was appended to the show, and guest stars (not guest characters) became the norm. The show slowly moved away from endearing vignettes and instead refocused on a regrettable new feature, “Ask Ina.”

Don’t get me wrong: I still love Ina with all my heart, but it’s time for an intervention with the producers. We need to get Barefoot Contessa back on track. After the jump, a few humble suggestions for Food Network…

1. Stop asking Ina.

Probably the worst change we’ve seen on Barefoot Contessa has been the frequent inclusion of the “Ask Ina” segment. This is the part of the show where idiots around the country write in to ask questions such as “How do I peel garlic?” or “How do I eat corn on the cob?” or “Which end of the fork do I hold?” Seriously, I think a Kindergartner with an Easy-Bake Oven could ask better question than these. I don’t mean to disrespect the audience because I have an inherent respect for anyone who loves Ina enough to send her a query, but let’s be honest here: if you have the wherewithal to figure out how to even submit an email or web video for this segment, you have the skills — and I’m guessing the time — to do a simple search on Google.

I do appreciate that Ina is trying to be more helpful to the masses, and I certainly wouldn’t mind if she addressed some of these questions while she cooked her recipes, but quite frankly, the segment takes up too much valuable air time without being terribly informative. I say either move it onto the web, bring back Ask Aida, or scrap it altogether. I’d much rather watch Ina laughing over a potluck than smiling at someone named Rory who doesn’t know how to use a potholder (although, admittedly, I do enjoy Ina’s little comments when she watches web videos). That brings us to the next point:

2. More gay parties.

Okay, the parties don’t have to be gay, but there is a certain charm in seeing Ina playing with her gays. Back in the day, every Barefoot Contessa episode ended with some sort of event: bridge with the gays, potluck with the gays, Christmas tree decorating with the gays, show tunes with the gays, martinis with the gays — I think you get the point. Even if there were no gays in sight, we had special times with Jeffrey. Remember that time when Ina served him dinner in a secret garden on their property? I mean, who has a secret garden? Or remember that other time when Ina told Jeffrey she was going to make him chicken but then said she wanted to do something different, and then he loved it, and she asked “So is this better than chicken?” and he said “These are the best scallops I ever had!” That’s the good stuff right there.

Sometimes Ina wouldn’t even be involved with the final showpiece. She’d simply deliver some outrageous meal to a college student or a volleyball team or some new neighbor. This would always be accompanied by some crazy labor iniquity wherein Ina would say something like “Rory [all her friends seem to be named Rory] bought me a new butter knife; so I thought I would just COOK HER THIS COQ AU VIN AND CHOCOLATE CAKE AND BUTTERNUT SQUASH SALAD to say thanks.”

The point is that all these little scenes involved some quirky, idiosyncratic elements that were both fun to watch but even more fun to snicker about after. I don’t really know why the producers have moved away from them, but they better head back IMMEDIATELY.

3. Fewer guest cooks.

I don’t mind an additional set of hands in Ina’s kitchen once in a while, but I’m not tuning in to see how Rory from the East Hampton cookie company decorates shortbread cookies of dogs (although, admittedly, that was a funny episode). Sometimes the guests do seem to whip up mouthwatering recipes, but more often than not, we’re left with situations like this past week when some perky lady wasted our time decorating a wizard hat with candy corns. We don’t tune in for crafts. Save that crap for Sandra Lee.

Even worse, the same woman took all of Ina’s marshmallow lollipops and shoved them into said candy corn wizard hat. She then proudly declared that she had made a topiary, which might have been a whimsical notion had this alleged topiary looked vaguely composed, but instead the whole contraption looked like the failed art project of a visually impaired toddler. Are we really wasting screen time on this crap?

On the plus side, it is always amusing listening to Ina make her “Doctor?” joke to all her guests in the kitchen.

4. Stop fast forwarding over vital stuff.

In order to make time for Ask Ina and all these cooking guests, the producers have had to cut some corners. Welcome to the most annoying new feature: “I’ll show you how I did it.” Nowadays, it’s commonplace for Ina to more or less fast forward over an entire recipe by looking at the camera and saying — you guessed it — “I’ll show you how I did it.” What then follows is a brisk, twenty-second rundown of all the steps Ina took in making some vital component of a dish. Technically, she does relay all the information to us, but it goes by so quickly that it’s hard to process. Part of the helpfulness of a cooking show is watching these cooks and chefs walk us through recipes, allowing us to absorb the techniques and internalize the steps to a certain degree. Now Ina breezes through recipes so quickly, I’m shocked Food Network hasn’t whittled the show down to a ten minute webisode.

5. Stop with the chocolate bark.

Seriously. There are only so many variations of chocolate bark we can watch before we want to toss the TV out the window.

What do you think about Barefoot Contessa these days? If you agree with this post, share it on Facebook or Tweet it! We need to start a movement. OCCUPY INA.

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13 thoughts on “How To Fix ‘The Barefoot Contessa’

  1. I loved the “Ask Ina” episode when someone asked her how to save peppers so they could enjoy them over the winter. Ina basically said that she didn’t know, and showed her how to roast peppers.

    • She did the same thing when someone asked her how to store basil for the winter! I think she told the person to make pesto, which is just not the same thing. I had a Gob Bluth-y “Come on!” moment when she served that gem up.

    • I have a feeling, during the “Ask Ina” segment, she coldy chides them under gritting teeth for being absolute morons..then proceeds to cheerfully help them.

      As for #4, Food Network showed a little “mini-commercial” during another show, wherein Ina explained in 15 seconds how to make a Risoto. .5 seconds into it I thought “how in the hell is this helpful for anyone?”

      Oh well, I do love me some Ina. I have used quite a few of her recipes and I find they aren’t too bad or too hard. Her Spaghetti and Meatballs is my fav! Of course, I make sure to use the GOOD meat

    • I enjoy watching Ina, and yes, she has a LOT of gay friends….which I’m tired of. Also, why is everything “Perfect”?. Giada Dilaurentiis also uses that word too much. Everything is always “Perfect”. Gads.

  2. God, i sooooo agree! I hate the Ask ina segments and the guest cooks. She’s trying to be Martha Stewart now. She should stick to being herself. Her old format was quirky and quaint and I loved all the gay parties that she helped them prepare. Jeffrey and Ina are such a cute couple too.

  3. TOTALLY AGREE!

    But also, she needs to do more 1-hour specials.

    I remember she had a holiday episode in London last year. IT WAS REALLY GOOD! she had really interesting people on and visited interesting places.

  4. Completely agree with this post and everyone’s comments. I think most of the fun leading up to the good times that used to mark the end of the episodes was the preparation segments where Ina would be cooking and one of her gays would be preparing a lighting/floral/some other kind of party setup. Also used to love when she’d ask inept friends to prepare a dish and they’d cut to them shopping and generally panicking about it.

    I have also noticed there’s a lot of showing us how to arrange store-bought items that can be used as appetizers or some other element of a dinner. I remember one episode in particular where she decided to show us that putting peanuts in bowls can serve as a fun, salty appetizer.

    But don’t get me wrong….I still love her. My favorite moment ever is when she prepared an anniversary dinner for Jeffrey and they ate it in the same tent where they had their first date or something, and the whole thing collapsed on them. How fun is that?

  5. I love Ina, but the show is boring, do you think that I has run out of things to make? She has done french, now what about German, Chinese, English ewww what is English cooking anyways?

    Maybe she can reopen her store, that might be fun to watch.

  6. I love my Ina as much as I love my Paula. These two ladies make my entire life – I want to be BFF’s with them.

    But, here’s the thing, if I watch Barefoot Contessa one more time to only see Ina Garten go to the deli and/or grocery and buy salami, olives, peperoncini, and crackers and put it on a tray, I’m going to flip. She should not be getting paid all that money to do something a 5 year old could do. Or the episode where she melted chocolate in the microwave and then poured it on a sheet pan and covered it in pistachios and cranberries (i.e. the chocolate bark complaint) – sweet Jesus that was obnoxious.

  7. Hysterical and on point. B-Side, the only way to capture her techniques is to live with a
    wand that slows the action down long enough to allow processing. As for her recipes, they’re also beginning to fray: too much salt (a tablespoon at a time?); too much butter. But those all-clad pots still look pretty good.

  8. OCCUPY INA – LMAO

    I love Ina and want to be her when I grow up – but the old her, the one with the fabulous but not too grandiose house in the hamptons and with the friends that show up with good wine or a beautiful table scape – Ask Ina is annoying and I keep waiting to see what they will come up with next year to dumb down the show a little more.

    Regardless, I will still watch as I have a huge girl crush on her. I love her hand tailored identical matching shirts in a rainbow of blue, black and cream and her spotless white kitchen that she never has to clean and her giant empty refrigerator that she never has to clean and her ability to repeatedly say, how easy was that?

  9. I, as well as most, think the”ask Ina” portion of the show could certainly be omitted. Her light hearted banter with her friends and Jeffrey are still fun to watch. I,m not too sure how many people are aware of what a hard worker she was when she had her store. Getting up at 3 a.m. to get the breakfast goodies ready certainly could’nt have been much fun. Getting any business off the ground and being able to leave it as a success takes real hard work of which this lovely lady is no stranger of. When I watch her show, I feel like I’m in the kitchen with my sister-real low key. At least with her blouses, she keeps them buttoned up!!

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