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'Barefoot Contessa' Ina Garten kicks off NYCB Theatre author interview series

Ina Garten will answer questions from food writer

Ina Garten will answer questions from food writer Julia Turshen and share stories and about her long and storied life as the "Barefoot Contessa" in the first installment of NYCB Theatre's new series, "Conversations" at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, July 23, in Westbury. Credit: Newsday/ Audrey C. Tiernan

The NYCB Theatre at Westbury is turning down the volume July 23 as it kicks off its "Conversations" series of author interviews. The first of the four featured authors is East Hampton's Ina Garten, host of Food Network's "Barefoot Contessa" and author of nine cookbooks. Garten recently spoke with Newsday about her upcoming appearance and her approach to writing.

Were you surprised that a cookbook writer was asked to kick off an authors' program?

I was very surprised. I used to think of my writing the way Truman Capote described Jack Kerouac -- "That's not writing, that's typing." When I got my first book contract, I went out to lunch with my editor and the first thing I said was, "We'll have to hire a writer." He said, "No, you're the writer." It was the hardest thing I've ever done, but over the years, I've developed into a writer.

You publish a book every two years. How do you come up with new recipes?

The first book was easy. I had a body of recipes from the store and that's what went into the book. When the book started selling, my publisher said, "We need another book." I said, "But it took me 20 years to develop the recipes for the first book." Ultimately, what I did was work with all the recipes I'd developed for catering. That's how the second book became "Barefoot Contessa Parties!"

What do you have working?

You know, I'm just finishing up my tenth book and now it's like exercise. I could sit down right now and put down 100 ideas for recipes.

But the cookbooks aren't just collections of recipes.

No, each book needs a backstory -- that's the glue that holds the recipes together. In my last book, "Make it Ahead," every recipe had to have that element. Same with "How Easy is That?" which was all about how to make things as simple as possible but still delicious. And with so many recipes free online, a cookbook needs to be clear about its personality. When someone opens my book, I want them to look at the photograph and say, "That looks delicious." Then they look at the recipe and say, "I can do that. And I can get all the ingredients in the supermarket." And when they make the recipe, it's better than they expected. That's what I'm about.

Which cookbooks were most important to your evolution as a cook?

All of Craig Claiborne's New York Times cookbooks. And when I first went to France, I cooked my way through Julia Child. That's really how I learned to cook -- I never went to school for it.

And now?

I buy so many cookbooks -- it seems like two a day. I refer to them all the time. Like yesterday I was working on a peach cobbler. I must have looked at 10 different recipes in 10 different books, then I put them aside and started to cook. I do gravitate toward cookbooks from gourmet stores. I love Sarah Leah Chase, who owned Que Sera Sarah on Nantucket and worked on the Silver Palate cookbooks. I also love the cookbooks from Loaves & Fishes, right here in Bridgehampton.

Speaking of the Hamptons, where do you go when you eat out?

In East Hampton we like 1770 House, Nick & Toni's, Palm, Tutto il Giorno in Sag Harbor, Vine Street on Shelter Island, Mirabelle in Stony Brook.

WHEN | WHERE 7:30 p.m., July 23, NYCB Theatre at Westbury, 960 Brush Hollow Rd., 800-745-3000, Tickets are $85. Future dates in series are cartoonist-memoirist Roz Chast (Aug. 20), poet Billy Collins (Sept. 17) and food-policy writer Michael Pollan (Oct. 29).

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