Ina Garten in her East Hampton garden

Ina Garten in her East Hampton garden Credit: Photo by - Audrey C. Tiernan

For the past six years, celebrity chef Ina Garten has been a fixture on The Food Network, where, on her "Barefoot Contessa" show, she shops, cooks and entertains, demonstrating for viewers that simple is not only easier - it's better. Not surprisingly, her casual elegance carries over from her kitchen to her garden.

I spent an afternoon with Garten earlier this month at her East Hampton home, a 3,500-square-foot shingle-style house set on 2 beautifully maintained acres, with a studio-kitchen (recently built in a separate building she calls "the barn"), where she also develops new recipes and writes cookbooks.

The gardens behind the house are formal, yet casual, with mostly purple-, blue- and green-flowering plants randomly placed within perfectly trimmed boxwood frames connected by gridlike walkways. Annuals, perennials and vegetables share the space, while the herb garden, behind the barn, boasts lush plantings including rosemary, chives, thyme and catmint, which one can smell immediately upon entering.

Garten is as warm and unpretentious in person as she is on TV, and she seems genuinely honored that her kitchen and herb garden have been chosen by House Beautiful magazine as "kitchen of the year'' and re-created for public display this week at Rockefeller Center. She offered me cookies and coffee, and I sat with her in the barn and chatted about her life and gardens.


What came first for you - cooking or gardening?

Definitely cooking.


When did you start gardening?

When I moved to East Hampton in 1985, I rented a house that had woods behind it, and I just started clearing the woods and underplanting. And one day, a local nursery started delivering trees and my husband said, "I think you need to buy a house," because it was a rental. I was landscaping a rental!


Do you still tend your gardens yourself?

I did for a long time, but I just don't have time now. I started the way I started my stores, in a small garden, up to my elbows in dirt, but now I have so much else going on, I have terrific people to do it.


What's your gardening style?

Organized but messy. I have very tight boxwoods, but inside them, it's messy. And when you have something that's messy, it's important that you have a very tight color palette, so it has blue, purple, orange - and lime green to give it life. But if you start adding all sorts of pinks and other colors, then it looks just like a big bowl of M&Ms, which is OK, but not in the garden.


What's growing now?

I have verbena bonariensis, lime green alchemilla, lime green nicotiana, salvias, irises, roses and rows of hydrangeas that I use for cutting. I also cut snapdragons and dahlias. And I have vegetables and orange nasturtiums.


Which are your favorites?

Always hydrangeas. And on the side of the house, there's a huge long row of beach roses called Blanc Double de Coubert. It's a very fragrant double-flowering white beach rose. It blooms prolifically around Memorial Day weekend and then a little bit during the summer and it takes no work whatsoever. I love blue, lime green with a little bit of oranges. I love the flowers on the chives, they're just gorgeous. I have carrots that are fantastic - they're red on the outside and yellow on the inside and they're so sweet and delicious. My favorite are the English cucumbers. My favorite thing in the herb garden is my fig tree; this is its second year, and I'm hoping we have figs this year.


Do you cook all your meals at home?

No. Do you? Does anybody? I either go to a restaurant or to somebody's house or I cook.


I see you snipping herbs on your show. Do you eat what you grow in the herb garden?

We use the herb garden all the time. The show is a very small part of my life. It's just about two or three weeks, twice a year. The main part of my business is my cookbooks, so what I do every day is test recipes for my cookbooks, and that's what we use the herb garden for.


What's your favorite herb garden ingredient?

Fresh thyme. I like thyme with lemon. I like thyme with garlic, and I'm known for my roast chicken, which is a very simple roast chicken with lemon and a big bunch of thyme in it, and onions. That's the thing I probably make the most.


What's your favorite item in the kitchen?

Wusthof knifes and All-Clad pans. You can't do anything without either one of them. They're really good quality, they're really simple and you don't need a million of them. You just need some, and they last a lifetime, both of them.


On your show, you're always either dining al fresco or in the house with a bunch of friends. Are you really eating and are they really your friends?

They're absolutely really my friends. We're really eating. We're really having a party. A lot of people ask me, "Is that really your husband or is that your TV husband?" It's really my husband. I think if you make it up, it looks made up. When I'm filming a show, I invite people over and I say, "Come for a party," and we actually really do have a party.


 By Ina Garten

 One 5- to 6-pound roasting chicken

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1 large bunch fresh thyme

1 lemon, halved

1 head garlic, cut in half crosswise

2 tablespoons butter, melted

1 Spanish onion, thickly sliced

1 cup chicken stock

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour


1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

2. Remove the chicken giblets. Rinse the chicken inside and out. Remove any excess fat and leftover pinfeathers and pat the outside dry. Place the chicken in a large roasting pan. Liberally salt and pepper the inside of the chicken. Stuff the cavity with the bunch of thyme, both halves of the lemon, and all the garlic. Brush the outside of the chicken with the butter and sprinkle again with salt and pepper. Tie the legs together with kitchen string and tuck the wing tips under the body of the chicken. Scatter the onion slices around the chicken.

3. Roast the chicken for 11/2 hours, or until the juices run clear when you cut between a leg and thigh. Remove to a platter and cover with aluminum foil while you prepare the gravy.

4. Remove all the fat from the bottom of the pan, reserving 2 tablespoons in a small cup. Add the chicken stock to the pan and cook on high heat for about 5 minutes, until reduced, scraping the bottom of the pan. Combine the 2 tablespoons of chicken fat with the flour and add to the pan. Boil for a few minutes to cook the flour. Strain the gravy into a small saucepan and season it to taste. Keep it warm over a very low flame while you carve the chicken. Slice the chicken onto a platter and serve immediately with the warm gravy.

5. If you want to roast vegetables with the chicken, place 8 whole small red potatoes, 4 carrots, cut diagonally, and add them with the onions. Place the chicken on top of the vegetables for roasting.

Serves 3 to 4.

 Copyright "The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook," Clarkson Potter Publisher


House Beautiful tour in Manhattan

Tour a reproduction of Ina Garten's kitchen and herb garden on the site of the Rockefeller Center ice rink, all week long. It's open from 2-4 p.m. on Monday, and from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday. The Rockefeller Center Tastes of Summer food festival runs alongside the kitchen on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

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