This morning I was thinking about reputation. I had seen a negative article on my favorite goddess of all things tasteful and smelling of sea air and lilac, Ina Garten of the Food Network show Barefoot Contessa. BTW the original Barefoot Contessa was a pretty good movie with Ava Gardner and Humphrey Bogart about the tawdriness of the movie business.
Because I live where she lives, I have seen Ina a few times around town. My house is walking distance from her house. When I pass the food channel and she is on, I stop even if it’s the third time I’ve watched her make saffron risotto with butternut squash.
Ina is a devotee of the Belgian designer Axel Vervoordt who started the neutral linen movement. She doesn’t like things that are purely decorative. She does not apologize for her liberal use of heavy cream, butter or sugar. She will make a plum tart for a casual lunch. (If I ever made a tart, I wouldn’t choose something as chancy as plums.) She doesn’t like cilantro (hooray). Her recipes always say “good olive oil” as if she knows we probably just have so-so olive oil. Outside of the plum tart, I could say, ditto, ditto, ditto all day long to the things Ina likes and her philosophies of decor and cooking.
You can imagine my surprise when I saw on several news sites that fresh-faced Ina who still likes to surprise her husband with nostalgic menus they shared on their honeymoon, had twice declined to meet with a terminally ill child who’s sole wish was to cook with her. No. no. no. Ina of the maddeningly elegant cookware and provisions who is addicted to rhetorical questions: “How good is that?” “How easy is that?” did not do that! The news story went on to say that only on the third request did the Food Network star agree to have the child cook with her. The only thing left to do was to tell the boy on national television: “Okay, you little crybaby, let’s see how well you fold in those egg whites.”
Henceforth (or at least in the near future) no matter how perfect the pear clafouti or how enviable the 18 foot marble work space in the new “barn” the first thing we will think is that Ina refused a terminally ill child’s simple request.
Now here’s the odd part. In tandem with my idolatry of all things Ina there has been a shadow impression that I couldn’t identify until now. It is the idea that if we met, Ina would not be friendly. There is a nuance that advertises a “no nonsense” coolness that would be hard to crack if you are not in her inner circle.
Will I still watch? Of course.