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· Culture Notes: Barefoot Contessa

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Culture Notes: Barefoot Contessa
by The Kindly One


Barefoot Contessa speaks to that part of me that, in college, was enamored with all things American upper-middle class. At the time, I wanted to live expensively and well in Manhattan in what would essentially be an extended episode of the now-defunct The Isaac Mizrahi Show. Though not set in Manhattan, it is this rarefied experience of life that is explored in Barefoot Contessa, which follows Ina Garten as she pares down French cuisine and the best of American upper-middle class fare into recipes that can easily be reproduced at home. Set in the East Hamptons and Paris, this show follows the Food Network formula of luscious cinematagraphy, an easy, engaging pace, and friendly, informative host to invite viewers into the world of culinary arts. Barefoot Contessa is among my favorites of the Food Network lineup because Ina consistently features vegetarian dishes, truly pares down recipes to make them as simple and efficient as possible, and is a very warm, low-key host. She seems the type of person that, were you to attend her party, you'd leave feeling relaxed, warm, and well-fed.

Here's the thing about Barefoot Contessa: it can be really, really boring. The same things that make the show so comforting - Ina's laidback demeanor, the unhurried pace, the general lack of pretention - can also make it move at a glacial speed when Ina's preparing uninteresting dishes. So why keep watching? Because ultimately, the comfort the show offers doesn't come so much from the host or the food or the enjoyment of the show itself, but from it's secret subtext: money. This show is all about money, even moreso than most other Food Network offerings. Money is everywhere, from the fact that Ina owns residences in two exceedingly expensive locations to the warm, soft lighting to the expensively understated kitchen to the offerings themselves. As likeable as the show is, the best part of it is how its money smooths everything over. Ina's garden always looks immaculate, her guests have refined tastes, and everything runs smoothly and on time, therefore, no worries. It's really this idea of a world where money can buy time, peace, and a hassle-free existence that has me hooked on this show, just as when I previously wanted to live life as a guest on Isaac Mizrahi's show. Obviously, money cannot buy happiness or love, but it can make life considerably simpler. Having the money to afford the time and materials to invest in your hobbies, as well as in materials that consistently work well, must eliminate at least some of the hassles in life. Likewise, not having to worry about money and instead spending your time doing the things you want to do in life seems like a pretty fulfilling way to live. Of course, I couldn't tell you if that's how Ina Garten actually lives, and I am pretty sure Isaac Mizrahi doesn't get to enjoy that existence all the time. Still, it's nice to watch the illusion of it, and so I continue to watch Barefoot Contessa and wish I was in her kitchen, surrounded by gadgets I'd never use but still enjoy just for knowing that everything - in that kitchen, in that house, at my disposal - was there to make my life easier and more pleasureable.

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1/05/2010 [1]

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