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Food Network Stars in Review: Ina Garten and Tyler Florence

This is the second in series where I review Food Network stars for rookies to the network. Are you a bored law student who wants to learn to cook as a method of relaxation but you don’ t own a chef’ s knife, food processor, or even a box grater? No? Wait, that was me! Eight years later, I successfully feed my family whole and nutritious foods. This is how it started.

Last week I waxed poetic about Rachael Ray, the staple in my everyday cooking. On the rare occasion where I need to ratchet up the fanciness, I turn to Ina Garten or Tyler Florence in the hopes that they have some good ideas. I think they both try to sell themselves as easygoing chefs, but, seriously, if I need to cook three separate elements for the jerk chicken sauce, Tyler, you fall into the special occasion category. That is fine, though, because they do it well. 

You may know Ina Garten as The Barefoot Contessa. I felt somewhat betrayed when I learned that she did not invent and develop this moniker; instead, she bought a store by the name in Westhampton Beach, New York in the 1970s. I wouldn’tt call her recipes “barefoot” in feeling; instead, you need a good pair of clogs to dig into a labor intensive project. Nonetheless, she knows her stuff, her TV mannerisms are not annoying, and she clearly has a passion for good clean food, preferably from a farmer’s market or her back yard.

My favorite Ina memory is when I made her Pumpkin Banana Mousse Tart for Thanksgiving a few years ago. Something about the pumpkin-banana combination excited me. I am not much of a baker, but the tart tasted light and just sweet enough. I cannot say that it looked as good, after I attempted to pipe (homemade) whipped cream on the top and the effect was something like the sweet potato marshmallow casserole you got in the school cafeteria around the holidays. I have not done much piping since then. Otherwise, I use Ina mostly for her side dish recipes, most recently creamed turnips (I creamed too much and one might have called them soup), my go-to lemon vinaigrette, and dilled fingerling potatoes. I also aspire to someday have a reason to cook Lobster Pot Pie, which sounds just about as good as it gets and looks entirely doable. 

I suspect the Food Network keeps trying to find the perfect show for Tyler Florence because we ladies find him very attractive. As a bonus, he can cook ... for your lazy Sunday dinner with your mother-in-law. He does not meet my week day needs, as his idea of a fast week night meal was turkey sloppy joes with homemade butternut squash chips. The day I take down a butternut squash on a week day, and then get out the deep frier, is the day I quit work and hire live-in help. But for a special night when I come across special ingredients, I trust Tyler. I think he is at his best with Asian recipes. In fact, when I found lemongrass in my CSA shipment last week, my first thought was “ We grow lemongrass in Georgia?” and my second thought was “ We’ re totally having Coconut Shrimp this weekend.” Similarly, I had a green bean with peanut sauce recipe at the ready for this summer’s green beans. 

The Food Network is relaxing and meditative for me; it is not necessarily all about the food. I suppose this is why I find myself TIVOing The Barefoot Contessa and Tyler’s Ultimate, and watching them cook things like lamb and rib roast, items that will likely never enter and exit my oven. I imagine the occasion special enough, and the day I have time enough, to make that amazing Ina or Tyler recipe and establish myself as a sought-after hostess. Then I leave my couch feeling a little more energetic and confident.