How Great is That? Alumna Ina Garten Returns to Campus

Lisner Auditorium and MetroCooking DC hosted an evening with Ina Garten on March 5.
Lisner Auditorium and MetroCooking DC hosted an evening with Ina Garten on March 5.

Cooking show host and GW alumna, Ina Garten, GWSB ’76–host of the Food Network show “Barefoot Contessa”–recently returned to to campus for an interview with The Washington Post food editor. Our friends at GW Today were onhand to catch the action:

For 12 years, millions of Americans have welcomed Ina Garten into their homes through her Food Network show “Barefoot Contessa,” cookbooks and more recently, frozen foods. On Wednesday, March 5, she got closer to her audience by sitting down for an interview with Washington Post deputy food editor Bonnie S. Benwick, sponsored by MetroCooking DC.

Garten, a GW School of Business alumna—and former nuclear energy policy adviser to Presidents Ford and Carter—offered some food for thought by discussing her career, recipes and her newest cookbook.

The crowd at Lisner Auditorium roared with applause as Garten took the stage. With an hour of scheduled interview time, Benwick wasted no time in getting the scoop on the next installment of Garten’s cooking anthology, and even managed to wangle a “make-ahead” recipe for cold zabaglione with amaretti, which Garten posted to her Facebook page. The recipe will appear in her upcoming book, “Make it Ahead: A Barefoot Contessa Book”—her ninth publication, featuring instructions for 85-90 dishes so simple they could be “written on a Post-It note.”

It takes approximately two years to complete each cookbook, explained Garten: a year to test new recipes and a year to put the visuals of the book together.

“When I’m done with a recipe, I hand it off to an assistant and watch them make it,” said Garten. “I need to see the user experience. I always learn something new. I go home and make it for dinner, then, if that works out, it makes it into the book.”

Garten also proved her wonk credentials by candidly answering questions about food politics, GMOs and so-called “ag-gag” bills, such as one recently signed into law in Idaho. The legislation criminalizes the filming of animal abuse at agricultural facilities and came on the heels of a Mercy for Animals video that showed dairy cows being beaten and abused by workers at one facility.

“Why didn’t the Idaho legislature pass a bill banning cow abuse instead?” said Garten. “The best we can do is buy as much good as we can and not drive ourselves sick over it.”

Delving into the “personal Ina,” Benwick convinced Garten to reveal three surprising facts about herself. Garten shared that she used to flip old houses in Dupont Circle, obtained her pilot’s license when she was first married, and that she used to love knitting and sewing clothing for her husband—she once made him a suede vest—but has no time for those hobbies at present.

Following the one-hour interview, members of the audience were given an opportunity to ask questions of the culinary idol. There were recipe and restaurant inquiries, but one young man stole the show with an apology: He confessed that several years ago, as a young Hill staffer, he had been tasked with ringing up policy advisers for an event and had placed a call to to her husband. But when Garten answered the phone, he suddenly realized who was on the other end of the line. He became frazzled and hung up immediately.

Garten took the confession in stride with a laugh.

As the evening drew to a close, Benwick led the audience in a modified chorus of her catchphrase: “How great is that!”

–Melissa Apter

This article originally appeared on GW Today on March 10, 2014.

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