In the garden with Ina Garten

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?

Wüsthof 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.

February 06, 2009

Exclusive: Five Questions With T.R. Pescod, Ina Garten's Other Man in the Kitchen
Those of us who tune in to Ina Garten's Barefoot Contessa series on the Food Network know these two men in Ina's life. One is her husband Jeffrey and they are very cute together. I enjoy when Ina's making something special for Jeffrey because she seems to enjoy the task more.

The other guy in Ina's life? When he walks into camera range, some of us sit a little taller and our hearts race a bit. Thomas (T.R.) Pescod is a actor and model and an actual dear friend and former employee of Ina's at the Contessa store, a Long Island guy (like me, though from the more tony Hamptons whereas I grew up as far from there as you could on the Island in Valley Stream) and, as you can see from the image left, stunning.

Just stunning, yes. but also a lovely charming guy (even in a Facebook exchange) who very generously gave me a little time the other day to answer five questions for all of you from Ina fans to you guys that spend hours (I have seen it, it happens) cruising the model agency websites to shop for your next boyfriends.

And here it is.

JB: It's been reported you've known Ina for over 15 years. Where did you meet?

TRP: Ina and I first met when I interviewed for a summer job at Barefoot Contessa. We had an amazing conversation and her spirit and energy were so infectious I immediately was smitten! She hired me on the spot and then it was love!! We had a fabulous summer, worked hard and played hard! The following summer she made me manager of the Barefoot Contessa in Westhampton Beach while she was busy opening the East Hampton branch. I worked with her for 4 years and we've maintained a great friendship for the past 25+ years!!

JB: Can you tell us anything about your Sex And The City experiences in 1999 and 2004?

TRP: Wow!! Sex and the City, what fun experiences those were! My first job was with Sarah Jessica. We had a scene where we were on a date. She had been on a series of dates with "freaks" and thought I could be a "normal" guy!! We shot on a cold NY night in front of The Strand book store. We had nice dialog and I even got to kiss her! BUT ... it all ended up on the cutting room floor!! Such a disappointment but was great working with Sarah. I've since run into her at a number of events ... most recently Runway for Change, to support Obama, and she came up said hello and has been nothing but a sweetheart. Always remembers my name and so much fun!!

My second job was a scene with Kim Catrall!! Let me tell you...that woman is in amazing shape. And so funny!! I played a gay PR director who was after her boyfriend Smith's phone number. She has phenomenal comic timing and made my experience so much fun and comfortable!! And it made the final cut!! I was thrilled and have since become friends....we have mutual friends out in the Hamptons.

JB: You played The Reverend/Angel in a movie called The Treat in 1998. I haven't seen it but it looks very trippy, and the cast runs from Daniel Baldwin to Julie Delpy to Seymour Cassel to Mink Stole. What was the conversation at the craft services table like on that project?

TRP: Wow!! How did find out about that! One of my early acting projects that never made it to theaters! Ha!! I didn't have any scenes with Julie or McDreamy! But I must say while I was in my angel outfit...which consisted of a piece of cloth wrapped around my waste and wings, I got lots of attention at the craft service table!!!

JB: It's Sunday, you have no time to shop, and two friends just called to tell you and Tim that they're in the neighborhood and wanted to stop by. What do you put out?

TRP: Well here's the scoop and your getting it first....Tim and I are no longer together. After 7 years the relationship had gone as far as it could. So ...saying that ... I always have some chicken in the freezer, cheeses in the fridge and an organic farm across the street in Southampton.

I love simple Mediterranean fare. Since I lived in France for four years I picked up a lot of great cooking habits ... it's all about what you put into a recipe! I'd marinate the chicken with some lemon, olive oil,white wine and my favorite sea salt mixed with herbs de Provence. Throw that on the grill with some fresh peppers and zucchini from the farm, make a great salad with goat cheese sprinkled on top. Roast some pignoli or pumpkin seeds I always have in the kitchen and throw that on the salad and pop a nice bottle of wine or two or three!!! And there you go. It's all about the company ... and simple ,clean, delicious food is always the best way to go! I had the fortune of learning from the best! I have absorbed so much from Ina and her philosophy on entertaining ... it has become my mantra!!

JB: You've cooked with Ina on TV and the NY Times has, and frankly they made it sound naughty, referred to you as a serial renovator. How about your own Food Network or HGTV show?

TRP: I'd LOVE that!! I'm actually in the process of launching my web site and taking all this to the next level. I had a meeting with Food Network and if you all keep bugging them to give me my own show ... well, you never know! It's been a lot of fun and I'm so flattered to have such great fans and amazing response to my appearances.

It blows my mind at times how many people watch the Food Network and everyone I've run into during my travels ... from an American fan in India, a couple who own a gourmet shop in Napa (to name a couple), to my many encounters with fans in airports and on the have all been so fabulous and complimentary! Keep watching there will be more shows with Ina and I!!

Keep an eye on Facebook when I'll invite all of you to check out my new website and you can check out and chime in on my going's on!!

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