Posted by: dinaguillen | August 3, 2009

I Love Me Some Ina Garten

So I turn on the television last week, and there’s Al Roker interviewing Ina Garten on the Today show.  The interview is taking place in the middle of Rockefeller Center where a replica of Garten’s barn kitchen has been rebuilt, in its entirety, in honor of House Beautiful naming it Kitchen of the Year 2009

If you’ve seen her show on the Food Network, then you’ve seen her kitchen.  Sigh.   I should preface this next statement by saying I’m a huge Ina Garten fan.  Like many of you out there, I have a bucket list where I have written down things I want to do before I die, and meeting her highness is on my list.  So, in my biased opinion, her kitchen is the perfect entertaining, cooking, and “hosting a television cooking show” kitchen.  In the Today show segment, she walks Al Roker around, explaining why her kitchen works.

Before I get to Ina’s tips, I should say that one of the great perks about being in a cooking club is learning, through trial and error, how to entertain.  And after cooking in seven other cooking club members’ homes, I have also learned some great tips on how to set up my own kitchen the best way for cooking and entertaining. 

My parents used to entertain a lot when I was a kid.  Looking back on it, it seems like every weekend there was some party at our house, although I’m sure that it wasn’t nearly that often.  No kids at these parties, of course, so my brother, sister and I would often sneak around some partition or door trying to listen in on conversations or sneak some delicious appetizer into our pajamas and run like the wind as if we had accomplished some great feat of espionage.  But what I remember most about those parties is the ease in which my mom hosted them.  She never appeared stressed, and in fact, she always seemed to be having fun and laughing, and ready to plan her next one.

Before I joined my cooking club, I was always intimidated about entertaining in my own home, and wondered how my mom did it, time and time again.  But it turns out that was the great secret – doing it time and time again until it just comes naturally.  And there is no better place to get it right then in a cooking club, where the whole purpose of getting together is entertaining and cooking.

But learning from great party throwers like Ina Garten  is another great resource, so here’s what Garten says about getting your kitchen cooking and entertaining ready:

First, the classic kitchen work triangle is sacred.  The triangle encompasses the stove, refrigerator and sink.  Simple, easy, and quick access to all three is essential, and can work in any style kitchen.  Garten’s sink is built into her 18-foot island, but it is only 3 ½ feet away from her stove, and both are a few feet away from her fridge.  Garten’s barn kitchen is almost as big as my entire house, but she made sure the kitchen triangle was intact.

Second, designate which part of your kitchen is for cooking.  I have parts of my kitchen that are specifically for cooking, with easy access to my pots, cooking utensils, counter space, cutting boards, etc.  Everything is in that area, so when my cooking club comes over, they know the general area of my whisks, spatulas, skillets – anything they may need to cook or finish their dish.  The rest of my kitchen is open for the myriad of other things that go on in my kitchen, like homework, crafts projects, and computer station. 

Third, get rid of the clutter on your countertops.  My husband loves this tip, as he is an advocate of getting rid of ALL clutter.  Plus, I think it’s pretty easy for Garten to throw this tip out there since her barn kitchen is 2,000 square feet with an ample amount of storage space, and mine is maybe a quarter of that.  But her point is to find a place for everything, and whether you have a New York apartment or live in suburbia with a little more space, it is so much easier to find things if they have a place to live.

Fourth, think about the functionality of your kitchen.  My parents have some rental property in Vancouver, Canada, and the person who designed the kitchen installed the dishwasher at the far end of the kitchen – faaar away from the sink and the cabinets.  I actually started to hyperventilate at the stupidity of it all.  Seriously, did this moron ever wash a dish in his (I apologize for the stereotyping – I assume it’s a “he”) life?!!!  Garten has cabinets, shelves and drawers right above her dishwashers (she’s got two – which she says is a must when entertaining – umm, whatever).  I moved into my home with the dishwasher already installed (near the sink – someone was thinking), so I just made sure my dishes and utensils were stored in the cabinets and drawers directly above.  And since this just makes common sense (shout out to the aforementioned kitchen designer!), my cooking club members naturally head for a drawer in that direction when looking for a fork or other eating utensil.

Actually, I have no right to be so judgmental of the kitchen designer on placement of things, since this all did not come together for me until I became part of a cooking club (although seriously – a kitchen designer!!!).  Anyway, my point is, while I love to cook, the other parts to entertaining – creating beautiful invitations, decorating the table, putting together a beautiful flower arrangement – none of them come easy to me.  It’s only because I’m in a cooking club that I have started to research these things, and my go-to gal has always been Ina Garten.

I have all her cookbooks, and I record her television show on the Food Network.  From her, I learned how to organize my pantry, the essentials of planning a menu, how to “set a table like a pro” (page 156 in her Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics cookbook), and to do most of the preparation the day before.

But most important of all, the lesson I’ve learned most from Ina Garten is to have fun with it all.  If your cooking club or dinner guests sense that you are stressed and not having fun, that really gets your party off to a bad start. 

To see Ina Garten’s interview on the Today show, click here.


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