Cookbooks

Meet the Home Cook Making Every Ina Garten Recipe—Ever

1,014 recipes in (and counting!), Trent Pheifer is on the culinary journey of a lifetime.

October 20, 2020
Photo by Quentin Bacon

Trent Pheifer was celebrating. He arranged oysters and clams—lustrous, exposed on the half shell—shrimp, crabs, and four blazing-red lobsters over ice. Among the shellfish menagerie he slipped lemon wedges and three dips: mignonette, cocktail, and mustard sauce. The impressive spread was to commemorate a milestone for Pheifer: Over the course of five years, he has cooked more than 1,000 of Ina Garten’s recipes. And in a little over a year from now, he’ll have cooked his way through her entire culinary oeuvre.

Pheifer began his project, Store Bought Is Fine, five years ago (October 10 is the official anniversary). In the years since its inception, he’s learned a bevy of culinary techniques, sharpened his photography skills, amassed a sizable online following, and even met his culinary idol. What began as a whim has become an all-consuming and life-altering project.

“I grew up cooking with my grandmother and my mom,” Pheifer told me. “But by the time I had left school, I wasn't cooking much. I moved to New York City, where there were so many good restaurants—cooking for me was microwaving a bag of Trader Joe's vegetable fried rice.” Like most of us, he met Garten through the television. Pheifer found himself soothed by her ease, creativity, and homespun sensibilities.

He always wanted to be invited to her parties. Instead, he began to host his own.

Like Pheifer, Garten didn’t get her start in a professional kitchen. In 1978, she left her government job in D.C. to helm a small specialty food store, called Barefoot Contessa, in Westhampton Beach, N.Y. In the late ’90s, after two decades running the store, Garten used her growing appeal and culinary know-how to publish her first cookbook, The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook. Three years later, the Food Network came knocking and launched a television program bearing the same name. In the years since, Garten has built a veritable culinary empire, complete with 11 cookbook titles and a 26-season-and-counting TV run.

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Top Comment:
“I love Ina Garten. I have yet to try any of her recipes that do t come out perfect. I own every cookbook she has published. I must admit I am a big fan. I would love to have lunch with her in her Hampton house back gardens. I just think she’s awesome. Good job sir on the 5 year project!”
— Viki
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Garten’s outsize appeal maneuvers delicately between aspirational and accessible. She cooks decadent but doable dishes from a farmhouse-style kitchen in East Hampton. There are facets of her life—her zip code, her circle of friends—to which the average home cook cannot relate, yet her well-tested and unstuffy recipes allow anyone to bring her flavors into their own homes. She doesn’t shy away from treating oneself, and she’s not concerned with latching on to the newest culinary trend. Her approach is cozy, confident, and clearly working: 20 years later she maintains a massive following. Garten’s shows and recipes are the subject of memes, binge-watching, and utter devotion, Pheifer being just one example.

The premise posits Pheifer as a store-bought version of his culinary idol, a Julie & Julia for the Instagram era. The title hearkens to one of Garten’s characteristic, and often exaggerated, adages—if you’re unable to procure a certain ingredient, like fresh herbs from the garden or vanilla shipped directly from Madagascar or even flames summoned directly from hell at home, the supermarket alternative will suffice.

“The initial concept was to put pictures of my horrible food next to her gorgeous-looking professional photos, but that kind of fell by the wayside over time,” Pheifer says. It has since morphed into a multidimensional enterprise that’s become an integral part of his life. “To be honest, I thought this would be a project that I'd do for three months and kind of lose wind, but I really, truly found my passion cooking.”

When he’s not working as a fundraiser for a nonprofit, Pheifer’s calendar is scaffolded around cooking and shooting Garten’s recipes. He budgets himself about four recipes a week. If one is extremely simple, like the compound butter he made just last week, he’ll lasso in a fifth. He cooks from all 11 of her published books (in no particular order), as well as from the recipes she prepares on her television show. While sourcing the ingredients and mastering the techniques are the obvious hurdles in a project like Pheifer’s, there’s one element that guides his workflow more than any other: taking the perfect picture.

“I always feel like I’m chasing the light most of the time, but I try to not let it interfere with my life as much as possible,” Pheifer says. Capturing the right image for his ballooning Instagram account, which boasts more than 27,000 followers, is a major part of his process. “I’m just using my iPhone and trying to get natural light; I go where the light is. I have photos in my bathroom, near my bed—a lot of my photos are on the floor of my kitchen.”

Sharing his progress online, Pheifer has found buoyancy and light in the community that frequents his Instagram. “We all think of the internet as a horrible place where people are so mean to each other, but to me this has brought out the best in people,” he said. “This community has been so supportive. There’s mutual love, admiration.” Garten herself frequently comments on his posts, and they’ve exchanged a few niceties online.

Yet no online interaction compares, Pheifer assures me, to the thrill of meeting his idol in person. It happened on a trip to Paris on his last day in the city, when he walked into a restaurant for lunch and noticed an extremely familiar face in the corner. The color, he says, drained from his face faster than you can say, “Jeffrey’s gonna love this.” Seated in the back of the restaurant were Garten and her husband, Jeffrey. After he finished his meal, Pheifer plucked up the nerve to stop by her table. “I couldn’t pass up this opportunity, so after a little bit of liquid courage, my friend and I walked over and introduced ourselves,” he said. “She turns to me and says, ‘I heard you were in town.’”

Since the start of the pandemic, Pheifer, like so many of us, has been spending more time at home. The new stay-at-home lifestyle has both helped and hindered his project. During the early days of quarantine, it was hard to find many of his staple ingredients (remember the yeast shortage?). But all the extra time he saves not having to commute to and from work has given him a larger window to cook and shoot his recipes during the week. Most of all, he misses the epic brunches he would host for his friends on Sundays, chances to gather at the altar of the Barefoot Contessa.

Of the thousand and counting recipes that he’s prepared, Pheifer says he’s liked about 95 to 98 percent of them. He counts her Rigatoni With Sausage & Fennel and her Chicken Thighs With Creamy Mustard Sauce, as well as her Ham & Leek Empanadas and Cauliflower Toasts, as some of his go-to favorites. As for disasters? Her Pear & Parsnip Gratin: “I’m just not a huge parsnip fan, and I was single at the time, so eating a whole casserole of pear and parsnip gratin was not what I wanted to do with my week. I think it was one of the only major fails.”

As he begins to consider the end of his project, Pheifer still doesn’t know what he wants his final Garten recipe to be. He assumes it will be something from her forthcoming book Modern Comfort Food, which was released earlier this month. He plans to hang on to the Instagram handle, but may pivot to recipe developing or experimenting with Korean and Thai food, two of his favorite cuisines to cook and eat.

“Ina will always have a special place in my heart. She taught me how to cook. There’s a lot of recipes that I grew up with that I would like to put my own spin on. The end of this will be bittersweet. It’s been five years of my life. But I’m excited for the next chapter.”

What's your favorite Ina Garten recipe? Let us know in the comments.
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Valerio is a freelance food writer, editor, researcher and cook. He grew up in his parent's Italian restaurants covered in pizza flour and drinking a Shirley Temple a day. Since, he's worked as a cheesemonger in New York City and a paella instructor in Barcelona. He now lives in Berlin, Germany where he's most likely to be found eating shawarma.

45 Comments

Leamlass November 3, 2020
I am trying to find out the recipe that is at the top of this page/post. The photo of a delicious spread on artisan bread. Would you tell me where I can read the recipe please, thank you.
 
Nancy November 3, 2020
It’s her cauliflower toast! And it’s fabulous! https://barefootcontessa.com/recipes/cauliflower-toasts
 
dannigrl November 14, 2020
Did not mean to hit buttons....sorry
 
dannigrl November 14, 2020
Didn’t mean to hit any buttons..sorry
 
Nancy November 2, 2020
I have made hundreds of her recipes, have all of her cookbooks, and every recipe is a winner! I can make one of her recipes for company, even if I have never made it before, and be assured it will be a hit. I love her soups, maybe especially. Her French Onion Soup is DIVINE, as is her Fennel and Onion Soup. I just took one of her Zoom interviews, with Jennifer Garner through Williams Sonoma. She has others coming up too. I cook from her cookbooks on nearly a daily basis. I have hundreds of cookbooks, but if I could only keep 12 - I’d keep Ina’s!
 
Jennifer N. November 25, 2020
The sheer volume of her recipes is a bit overwhelming. Do you have a top five (no desserts)? Would love some guidance!
 
Nancy November 26, 2020
Food is a very individualized thing, so what I love may not be what you love. And part of it is, how much time do you have? I rarely find a recipe I dont like. I cant stick to 5! But I gave you a very few of my favorites by category. You can get her index, of all her recipes on her website. I have a special notebook just for that.

Favorite and easy appetizer: Green Herb Dip (Easy, p. At Home, p. 21; Fancy appetizer, Sausage Stuffed Mushrooms (Easy, p. 184)

Favorite Salads: Cape Cod Chopped Salad (Basics, p. 78), Charlie Bird’s Farro Salad (Pro, p. 46)

Favorite Sandwich - Croque Monsieur (Paris, p. 48)
6
Favorite Soups - I have made most of them and love them all. Her French Onion Soup tops the list (Barefoot Contessa Cooks, p. 76), Papa Al Pomodoro (Basics, p. 68)

Favorite Easy Dinner - Parmesan Chicken with the Salad (Family, p. 82); Chicken Piccata (Home, p. 96)

Favorite Fancy Dinner - Filet Migon with Mushrooms and Blue Cheese (Jeffry, p. 104) or Boeuf Bourguignon (Paris p. 121)

Favorite Seafood - Salmon and Melting Cherry Tomatoes (Foolproof 150) Flounder Milanese (Pro p. 101), Shrimp and Grits (Pro, p. 130), Sole Meuiere (Basics, p. 131)

Favorite Everyday Pasta/Rice - Mac and Cheese (Family, 202), Mushroom Risotto (Basics, p. 144)

Favorite Sides - Green Beans Gremolata (Foolproof, p. 169), Sautéed Asparagus and Snap Peas (I make the most often of any of her veggies (Parties, p. 127)

Favorite Breakfasts - Raspberry Baked French Toast (Ahead, p. 258), Strawberry Rhubarb Compote with Greek Yogurt (I make big batches and keep in my freezer (Ahead, p. 250), Baked Blintzes with Blueberry Sauce (Basics, p. 230), Roasted Asparagus with Scrambled Eggs (easy - Parties, p. 34)

Sorry I couldn’t keep it to “5” - hope this helps!
 
Anne C. November 2, 2020
I also love Ina
She is warm intelligent and has great style!!
I have 6 of her cookbooks!!!👏😊
 
Joan S. November 1, 2020
I literally just decided to make Ina's Fettunta with Prosciutto for an appetizer for this evening, then happened to click on this article and there is was in was in living color! It's easy and delicious, in case you haven't tried it before :).
 
kiawahbarb8 November 1, 2020
As a former Long Islander, I feel a kinship with Ina. I have all her cookbooks and have been a fan for over a decade. I love the way she has such a easy way with cooking, I love her outrageous friends and most of all I love her relationship with Jeffrey. Married 50 years...just like me!! Ina, keep on cooking and making us happy. My other "idol" was Maida Heatter who wrote many dessert cookbooks and was cooking well into her late 90's, she passed away last year at the age of 101. Cooking and entertaining guests and family keeps you young and happy!!
 
Beth November 1, 2020
I have all Mrs. Garten's cookbooks. And for over 10 years, THE favorite IG recipe of mine and my friends is her Tuna Tartare. I make this at least 2x a month.... for parties (works with ruffled potato chips, rice crackers, etc.). or on butter lettuce as a light lunch. Super simple and truly delicious My cheat trick is I purchase frozen, pre-cubed Ahi-grade Tuna at Whole foods, and will make the cubed tuna into smaller dice (while semi-frozen) for a party appetizer or if using as a lunch, will keep the cubes as is. Ridiculously good!
 
shannonp November 1, 2020
My sister and I LOVE Ina!! We’ve made so many of her dishes and love them all. My sister even got to meet her! I hope I get to meet her one day to tell her how much I love her recipes!
 
christ9767 November 1, 2020
My two favorites are Ina's coq au vin and her coquille St. Jacque. Both recipes have cognac/brandy in them and they are terrific.
 
Barb J. November 1, 2020
I too have all of Ina Garten's cookbooks. I make the lemon bars, outrageous brownies, coconut cupcakes, cranberry conserve, parmesan smashed potatoes ,turkey meatloaf, white beans with rosemary, chocolate ganache cake, carrot cake muffins, corn chowder, tomato soup, cheddar and scallion creamed corn, and chicken broth.
 
kiawahbarb8 November 1, 2020
I love her Raspberry Crumble bars...whenever I make them, I always get raves.
 
Karen S. November 1, 2020
Ina's zucchini au gratin will make a vegetable eater out of anyone including very young children. Just love it!
 
Kate S. November 1, 2020
Ina’s lasagna with turkey sausage is the best lasagna I’ve ever eaten! And since this is a time when more people are craving comfort food, I’m going to make her Ultimate Beef Stew from her new cookbook this afternoon. Love you, Ina.
 
Sheri November 1, 2020
My bucket list includes a cooking class with Ina. The closest I cam to having that dream come true was having a "girls night" cooking Shellfish and Chorizo Stew and then joining the virtual book tour with Jennifer and Ina. I loved the format! So true to my experience over the years, humble and refreshing. I think I will cook my way through this new book, it might be just what keeps me sane in this crazy world.
 
tucsonbabe November 1, 2020
Who could resist Ina’s Outrageous Brownies ? If we are going to clog our arteries, let’s do it with gusto.
 
Lynn November 1, 2020
I too saw Ina and Jeffrey in Paris. I was having lunch with my family at the Petit Palais and while my son-in-law was paying our bill, I walked to the front to overlook that gorgeous city. There standing was someone who looked vaguely familiar to me. The curly hair gave him away ... omgosh, it’s Jeffrey Garten. Can Ina be far away? I ran to get my family to tell them and when I got back Ina and Jeffrey were walking down the steps and on their way. I desperately wanted to catch up to tell Ina what joy she has brought to my life but as they walked away hand-in-hand, I felt I should leave them in peace. I sometimes regret not saying hello.

 
kiawahbarb8 November 1, 2020
How lucky for you! to be in Paris AND spot Ina and Jeffrey!!
 
Karen W. November 1, 2020
Favorite Ina recipe: Potato-Fennel Gratin A showstopper especially along side a Beef Tenderloin
 
Karen W. November 1, 2020
Favorite In recipe: Potato-Fennel Gratin A showstopper especially along side a Beef Tenderloin
 
Catherine I. November 1, 2020
Hope he checks his blood cholesterol regularly. One reason Garten's recipes are so tasty is the incredible amounts of fat they contain. That cauliflower toast itself has more than 30 grams of saturated fat per serving.
 
Carmyn A. November 1, 2020
Fat is the ultimate flavor conductor! Ina’s recipes are truly delicious!
 
Allison W. November 1, 2020
Does Trent include the actual recipes in his Instagram account or do you have to buy her books to get the recipes?
 
Barlow November 1, 2020
She taught so many of us to cook, right? Love her :)
 
Victoria D. November 1, 2020
So happy to see this story. I’ve been following Trent on his Instagram page. My family loves her turkey lasagna..... they’d have it once a week if they could.