Someone’s in the Kitchen with Ina

Just about everyone who cooks has a Julia Child story. How she inspired them, how she entertained them, even how she got them pregnant! When it comes to Julia worship, people practically fainted in her presence with religious fervor. My own Julia story, yet to be revealed, talks about how she gave me great comfort in a time of great pain. But who—all these years after Julia first flickered on TV, instructing us with that warbly hoot-owl voice of hers—is her logical successor?

I’ll tell you who: Ina Garten.

Ina has touched, thrilled, even titillated (not that way!) legions of cooks for the past 14 years with her approachable recipes and her “How easy is that?” commentaries. And while I cook (fabulously, I might add) from a few of her many cookbooks—Barefoot Contessa Parties, Barefoot Contessa in Paris, and Barefoot Contessa at Home—what I hold most dear is a short conversation I had with her years ago, one I’m sure she forgot the next moment. But I replay it in my mind over and over again, like an old bootleg Betamax tape of Star Wars.

It was 2009, and my cookbook had just been published. I was scheduled to be a guest on the now-defunct Martha Stewart radio program Living Today. The host was Mario Bosquez, who had expressed great interest in my book. I’d also accepted an invitation to taste a new line of Ina’s breakfast baking items at a private function scheduled an hour before my radio interview. So, book in hand, I headed to the party.

I’d decided to ask my friend David Tomberlin, without a doubt the giddiest, most ardent Ina Garten fan alive, to tag along. So loyal are his affections for Ms. Contessa that should you speak ill of her, you risk banishment from his table after a tongue lashing that would make Joan Rivers blush. He’s probably cooked every dish she’s ever committed to paper, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he has the indices of her cookbooks memorized. (Honest. Ask him anything.) When I invited him to come along, all he could do was vibrate.

When we arrived at the party, we spotted Ina immediately. She was standing with Frank Newbold, her business partner, was wearing her trademark blue blouse—collar up, natch—and was surrounded by blithering sycophants.

“David, behave yourself,” I said to my friend. “You don’t want to come off as desperate.”

He and I made small talk with other folks at the event. As we circled the room, David kept mumbling of a monologue involving the appropriateness of his clothes, what he’d say to Ina should the opportunity present itself, if he should ask for her autograph, and whether genuflection was out of the question.

After seemingly forever, we finally sidled up close enough to Ina that we were within her glow.

“Hello,” she said. “Are you enjoying yourselves?”

“Very,” I replied. “Aren’t we?” This was to David, who just stood there speechless, staring. Oh God, I thought, I hope he doesn’t do something inappropriate, like whip out his iPhone and show her all the dishes he’s ever made from her books.

“What’s that?” Ina asked, pointing to my cookbook.

“Oh, it’s just my new cookbook,” I said rather dismissively.

“May I see it?” Oh my God. Ina wants to see my cookbook. Calm down, David. Don’t gush. Don’t say anything wildly stupid or throw your arms around her or genuflect. People get thrown out for those kinds of things.

“Is it your first?” she asked, flipping through it.

“Yes.”

“It’s beautiful. And look!” she said turning the book spine-up, “we have the same publisher!”

I wanted to scream, “Yes, we do have the same publisher, Ina! Ever since Clarkson Potter bought the book, I’ve been telling people that I’m writing a Portuguese cookbook, and they just look at me and blink. But when I add, ‘I have the same publisher as Ina Garten,’ their faces light up, and they nod, as if you’re my personal stamp of approval. I love you, Ina. I love you!”

All that came out, though, was, “Yes.”

“Well, take some advice from me…” Ina Garten—INA-WHO-LIVES-IN-THE-HAMPTONS-AND-HAS-THE-BEST-SHOW-ON-TV-FREAKING-GARTEN—is giving me advice! “Enjoy this moment as much as you can because you’ll only have one first book. And there’s nothing that can compare to what this feels like right now.”

She went on to explain how amazing she had felt when her first book, The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook, had been published. How she’d walked around with a copy stuffed in her purse, as silly as that may sound. I didn’t tell her how I’d slept with my book under my pillow every night for the better part of a week.

As she handed my book back to me, I had to do it. I just had to say it. It was as if I’d been possessed by the soul of a hepped-up, hormone-raging teenybopper in the presence of Elvis. “Ms. Garten, I think your show is wonderful.” Stop here, and it will be okay, David. “And I think all your recipes are so accessible and easy.” Any more and you’ll sound like an idiot, David. “And…” I looked over at my friend David, the all-time biggest Ina fan, who was composed and smiling—a bit too manically, perhaps—but at least he wasn’t on the verge of fool-dom.

“Thank you,“ she said graciously. “I wish you the best of luck with it. And don’t forget: You only have one first book.” With that she turned to a gaggle of silly sycophants who gushed embarrassingly.

On our way out, David, who had said not a word to his idol, remarked to me, “It’s so good to see how you weren’t desperate at all. Oh, no, not at all.”

What can I say? Do as I say, not as I do.

David Leite's signature

swirl

Ina Garten’s Lemon Chicken

“I don’t know how authentically French this is, but a friend made it for us in Provence and to me it’s the essence of French country cooking,” Ina says of this recipe. My response: “Who cares?” I’ve made this no less than a dozen times, and each and every guest has raved. And it’s a favorite of The One’s family, especially of his niece, Callie. I have a special relationship with the lemony, schmaltzy croutons in this recipe. In fact, I always make extra, just for me. (It’s a cook’s prerogative.) I had to practically tackle Callie and her brother for the last few croutons on the serving platter. That’s my way of saying to watch your back when eating this Ina marvel. Here’s my solution: Keep a stash in the kitchen, far from the prying eyes of assertive guests. How easy is that?!–David Leite

LC Commitment Chicken Note

Ina Garten has published many a recipe for roast chicken, but perhaps none so famous as the one that inspired the gals at Glamour magazine to dub it “Engagement Chicken.” See, each time a staffer made it for a beau, the happy couple ended up engaged within weeks, if not hours. Swell story, eh? We’ve made that reputedly romantic recipe. It’s lovely, lemony, and quite similar to this recipe—perhaps even a riff on it. But quite honestly? If we had to choose, the chicken recipe from our beloved Barefoot Contessa that we’d want to spend the rest of our lives making is the one on this page. We call it Commitment Chicken.

Lemon Chicken with Croutons Recipe

  • Quick Glance
  • 15 M
  • 2 H
  • Serves 2 to 4

Ingredients

  • 1 large yellow onion, thickly sliced
  • One 4- to 5-pound roasting chicken
  • 2 small lemons, quartered
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 6 cups bread cubes, each 3/4 inch thick, from a baguette, boule, or other artisanal loaf
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for the onions
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher or sea salt, plus more to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste

Directions

  • 1. Preheat the oven to 425°F (218°C).
  • 2. Toss the onion with a little olive oil in a small roasting pan. Remove the giblets from the chicken and discard or reserve for another use. Rinse the chicken inside and out, pat the chicken dry, and place it on the onions in the roasting pan. Sprinkle the inside of the cavity with salt and pepper to taste and cram the lemons into the cavity. Brush the chicken skin with the melted butter and sprinkle with generous amounts of salt and pepper to taste. Tuck the wing tips under the body of the chicken and, if desired, tie the legs together with kitchen string.
  • 3. Roast the chicken for 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours, until the juices run clear when you make a slit between the leg and the thigh with the tip of a sharp knife. Loosely cover the chicken with foil and let it rest at room temperature for 15 minutes.
  • 4. Meanwhile, heat the 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high until very hot. Lower the heat to medium-low, add the bread, and cook, tossing frequently and adding more oil if needed, until golden brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Sprinkle the bread with the 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Place the croutons on a serving platter. Carve the chicken and place it on the croutons. Spoon the pan juices over the chicken. Taste and, if desired, sprinkle with salt. Serve warm.
Hungry for more? Chow down on these:

Testers Choice

Testers Choice
Testers Choice
Lori Widmeyer

Feb 14, 2013

"Mom, you are awesome!" is a quote I love to hear. Coming home to Ina Garten's roast chicken for dinner produces just that reaction in my 2 teenage boys, who play soccer after school, and my husband, who works long days, often without a break for lunch. Being out of the house before dinner for is the norm for me, so dinners that need to bake for more than an hour are impossible. I decided to try to produce the same great chicken using the slow cooker. I added another onion and 2 more small lemons, and I cut these in half and placed them on the bottom of my 7-quart slow cooker. I followed Ina's instructions from there, using salt and pepper and placing the lemons in the chicken cavity and then brushing the skin with butter and seasoning it with more salt and pepper. I cooked the chicken on high for 2 hours and low for 3 1/2 hours. When I got home, I could tell the chicken was done and juicy. Copying a technique from Ellie Krieger's Broiled Buffalo Wings from this site, I then put the chicken under the broiler to blister and crisp the skin for more of that roasted texture and appearance. It turned out perfect, with raves reviews from all! I will definitely do this recipe this way again.

Testers Choice
Suzanne Fortier

Feb 14, 2013

I was first served this dish at the home of a well-known website publisher. :-). I assumed it was so good because he made it, but when I invited my family over for Sunday dinner, I decided to try it. I was serving five meat-eating adults and a couple small kids, so I cooked two 3 1/2-pound free-range natural chickens, side by side, in a large roasting pan. I used a loaf of durum wheat bread from Seven Stars Bakery in Providence for the croutons. The recipe couldn't have been easier and the results couldn't have been more spectacular. My siblings were ripping the meat off the carcass at the dinner table. They raved madly about it for hours—and even several bottles of wine later. Thank you, Ina!

Testers Choice
Kristen Kennedy

Feb 14, 2013

This is the best roast chicken I’ve ever made. I’ve tried probably more than 100 roast chicken recipes in my life. They never meet my expectations. This was the easiest, most gorgeous, and most delicious chicken I’ve ever made. It brought tears to my husband’s eyes and I was strutting around the house like I’d just won a pageant. Simply amazing. The only thing I changed was to add some chicken stock to the pan and set it over a flame to reduce. After straining everything at the bottom of the pan, you’re left with a rich, dark, and delicious pan sauce. I’m tearing up just writing about it. Thank you. I really, really want to hug you!

Comments
Comments
  1. Martha in KS says:

    I want to be Ina when I “grow up” and marry Jeffrey. They’re the sweetest couple. AND she can cook!

    • David Leite says:

      They are a lovely couple, aren’t they, Dorothy? I never saw them when we were in the Hamptons, but The One spotted them many times.

  2. Alex says:

    What a wonderful story! I took a cooking glass with Ina years ago at DeGustibus in NYC. I drove from Boston, arrived hours early, and snagged a front row seat. Ina (in her then signature jean shirt) was as lovely in person as in her cooking show. As class began, she asked if anyone had cooked from her book (the first, original BFC, I think). My heart racing, I looked behind me to see if anyone would answer. Like your story, it’s as if my hand raised itself. “Wonderful! What did you make?” giggled Ina.

    Next thing I knew, I (quickly) gushed to Ina how my best friend had planned a big holiday party for his friends and high-brow NYC co-workers at this new home in Bay Shore. His caterer bailed out just three days before the big event. Desperate, he called me for help. I threw my KitchenAid, assorted sheet and and spatulas, the spoils of a hurried shopping list, and my new copy of “The Barefoot Contessa” into my car’s trunk, and sped off from Boston towards Long Island. I marveled to Ina that everything I prepared for the party was from the BFC book (Caramelized Onion Dip!), and everything came out deliciously tonrave reviews.

    In true Contessa fashion, gracious as always, Ina remarked on ‘what a great friend I had been,’ but I declared that it was Ina who had truly saved the day! What a moment!!

    • David Leite says:

      Well, Alex, it looks as if you had an even closer encounter than I. That sounds like close encounter of the first kind. It’s so good to hear that even though she’s become such a huge star (I believe she’s the highest grossing cookbook author in the world), she is still very much a kind and sweet woman. I know everybody in the Hamptons adores her.

  3. It sounds like she is as gracious in person as she is on her show. I also feel that “nice” people usually are surrounded by the same. And now I guess I should try that chicken!

    • David Leite says:

      Abbe, you definitely should try the chicken, regardless of who it came from! It really is a winner. And, yes, I think she’s always surrounded by wonderful people. I know some colleagues who have been on her show and say she’s just marvelous. The real deal.

  4. Jackie says:

    David, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this piece. I could picture everything that you described. I kept quietly shooing you and your friend over to where Ina was standing. I am quite often met with odd glances when I recommend recipes of Ina’s, but we have many tried-and-true dishes that we make again and again. Those who poo-poo her because she is on the Food Network don’t know what they’re missing.

    • David Leite says:

      It is odd, but some people have raised eyebrows when it comes to Ina because she’s on the Food Network. Like you, we have many wonderful recipes of hers that we’ve made over and over again. We love them.

      I just hope Ina reads this and invites me on her show!

  5. Cleo says:

    I am a huge Ina fan so I can sympathize with your friend. I wouldn’t be able to speak either. I once had the honor of meeting Ms. Eudora Welty and I just stood there gaping with my mouth closed, thankfully. I have most of Ina’s cookbooks–I love the ease of her recipes, common ingredients, and the fantastic results. I like just as much her approach to entertaining and have used her ideas many times. I can attest it really is true what Ina says about entertaining the boss; don’t go to extremes, cook in your zone and they will enjoy it. I find a good old-fashioned dish doesn’t hurt either.

    • David Leite says:

      EUDORA WELTY? I would be speechless, too. Actually, this reminds me of an event The One that I went two years ago in Washington Depot, CT. It was a fund raiser for farmers and Meryl Streep was the speaker. Well, I stood in line for almost a half hour to meet her, and when she turned to me I just looked at her, my mouth moving like a guppy out of water, and walked away. The One hasn’t let me forget it since.

  6. David, sweet story. And I like how you “replay it in [your] mind over and over again.” I had a slight acquaintance with Julia Child and chatted with her on several occasions, and I’ve replayed those conversations in my mind many times since she died.

    • David Leite says:

      Thanks, Jean. Ah, Julia. She, too, was a great lady. I had the good fortune to interview her before she passed. Fascinating, and so genuine.

  7. Kay says:

    I have never made an Ina recipe that wasn’t delicious. When people rave about something I make it is almost always from Ina. I can’t wait to try this roast chicken recipe.

    • David Leite says:

      Kay, you’ll adore it. Trust me. And do save some of the croutons for yourself. They’re a meal in itself for me.

  8. Martha Libretti says:

    I absolutely adore Ina and her recipes. This is a must try. Thank you for sharing.

  9. Monica says:

    That is such a funny story! Ina sure knows what she’s doing and I love her current series of shows set in California.

  10. Hear, hear! I adore Ina and Jeffrey just makes the whole show better. I don’t think I’ve made a recipe of Ina’s that wasn’t perfection and the fact that we cook very much alike is what first drew me to her. She’s got such a calming demeanor and voice, I love to “watch” even from the next room.

    • David Leite says:

      Much agreed, Anne. I often have her show on in the family room while I’m working in my studio. It’s like the voice of a friend.

  11. Hi David–Love “warbly hoot owl” describing Julia Child’s voice. And I will try the chicken!

    Anne C. (Puerto Rico pal)

    • David Leite says:

      ANNE! Ho good to hear from you. You won’t be disappointed the chicken. Promise. Oh, and The One says hello.

  12. Lori Lynn says:

    She’s just fabulous. So are the lemony schmaltzy croutons.
    LL

  13. Paula says:

    This is the BEST roasted chicken recipe! I made it last night and could not believe the results! The chicken was beautifully browned and produced lovely pan juices. Make it…you will feel so accomplished! Thanks Ina…oh…and David!

    • David Leite says:

      Ain’t it great, Paula? And the croutons… I always send up a silent prayer that I have a lot of gluten-free folks at the table when I serve this…. More for me!

  14. acanadianfoodie says:

    Love Ina’s practicality and TV persona. She’s so–well, me. Wish we knew one another better so you would get the full breadth of that comment. Meeting her for you was like meeting you for us/me at the FBC conference last weekend. But a Canadian would never be an overt sycophant. Probably not even a covert one. We expect nothing and give all… then get so much in return. So wonderful meeting you, David.

    :) (cannot resist)

    Valerie

    • David Leite says:

      Valerie, well, I’m still thrilled about my time spent in Canada, and how lovely everyone was. Oh, and a little sycophantic adulation isn’t necessarily a bad thing, is it!

  15. Penny says:

    Loved the story! A bit David Sedais and Robert Rodi combined. It laughed, I cried, I loved it! Now I’m gonna take a peek at your first book:)

  16. Hi David! The last commenter had it right- I love your style, very Sedaris-esque :) I went to your session at BlogHer Food in Austin this year and actually felt the same way about you as you do about Ina! Talk about being surrounded by your food idols. I’m still feeling inspired by that weekend.

    But yes, Ina. Love. I actually really like her show- it seems like it’s the only one of the Food Network shows left that’s actually about … well, food, and not some extreme challenge or whatnot! The roast chicken sounds absolutely lovely. I think my fiance and I would fight over who gets to eat more croutons! YUM. Thanks for sharing this recipe.

    • David Leite says:

      Mallory, my pleasure. (And thanks for the compliment!) If you make the recipe, report back what you and your fiancé think. I’d marry just about anyone who offered me this chicken on a weekly basis.

  17. Lloyd Le Blanc says:

    Hello,

    Could a small turkey be cooked n the same way?

    Thanks,

    Lloyd

    • David Leite says:

      Lloyd, it could. My concern is because it has to cook longer the onions would scorch. I’d do some research into high-heat roasting of turkeys to get a sense of how to handle the bird. (Four hundred and-twenty-five degrees is high for a turkey, unless you’re roasting using a high-heat method.)

      • Lloyd Le Blanc says:

        Hello David,

        Thank you for your reply.

        I agree perhaps this temp would be a bit much. When we do any fowl we always brine simply with water and sea salt.Usually for no less than 2-3 hours. For a 10lb. turkey probably about 12 hours. We even brine boneless breast. However never dark meat such as boneless thighs. We find that by brineing that after cooking the meat is always moist and is cooked to the bone with no red or pink. This also gives us assurance that the meat is cooked through.

        Absolutely love your site and it is our “go to” site for all cooking.

        Oh, and the stories are great!

        Again thank you & regards,

        Lloyd

        • David Leite says:

          Llyod, if you’re going to brine the turkey, the vegetables under the turkey might be too salty. I depends how strong the brine and for how long you keep the turkey in it. So keep that in mind while cooking. And, please, send photos when you’ve made it!!

  18. Nancy Stevenson says:

    Hi David,

    My family and I thoroughly enjoyed this roast chicken–it was absolutely delicious and so easy to make! This my first BFC recipe and definitely not my last. I really loved your story, too.

    Regards,

    Nancy

    • David Leite says:

      Hi Nancy. So glad you liked the recipe and the story. If this is your first time to the site, welcome. If, not, then hello again. Generally, you’ll find Barefoot Contessa recipes to be pretty much spot on, although I find she uses too much salt–and I have a heavy hand with salt.

  19. Natalie says:

    I’ve finally understood what the hype over this recipe is all about! Made this with a butterflied chicken and added some garlic along with the onions, it was amazing to say the least! Thanks David and Ina! :)

  20. Cynthia Thomas Chappell says:

    My husband and I are celebrating our 31st wedding anniversary, and he has to travel on the day so dinner out is not an option. I decided to make dinner at home. I thought of Ina’s Engagement Chicken and Googled the recipe. It came up along with your site. I loved that you call it Commitment Chicken! I told my husband that I wanted to make this one because we are in for the long haul! :) Thanks for the inspiration! Any ideas for what should I serve with it???

    • David Leite David Leite says:

      Cynthia, The One and I are in it for the long haul, too, so we like the moniker “Commitment Chicken,” too.

      For a vegetable, we like to toss asparagus spears in olive oil, sprinkle them with salt, pepper, and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano then roast them. A squeeze of lemon finishes them nicely. For wine we like a buttery Chardonnay with a bit of a crisp edge. (We’re into 2012 Chacewater Chardonnay at the moment.)

      Oh, and happy anniversary!

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