Ina Garten Channels Barbara Walters for New ‘Be My Guest’ Talk Show
It’s very easy to talk to Ina Garten.
For fans of the celebrity chef, Daytime Emmy winner and longtime host of Food Network’s “Barefoot Contessa,” this likely won’t come as a surprise. Garten is famous for her lighter-than-air personality, effortless friendliness, and delicious recipes. In “Barefoot,” she invites cameras into her beautifully appointed East Hampton, New York, home and cooks accessible, beautiful meals for herself and her husband, Yale professor Jeffrey Garten, and we have the feeling like you’ve been invited to the dinner table, too.
Now she’s really inviting people into her home in Discovery+’s “Be My Guest with Ina Garten” (airing Saturday), a new series in which Garten interviews famous people about food and drink. And unsurprisingly, it’s no problem for her to get people to open up.
“What I love about cooking is that people come to the table and that’s when you can really connect with them,” says Garten, 74. Some of the guests she connects with are “ER” and “The Good Wife” actress Julianna Margulies, director Rob Marshall and “Today” host Willie Geist.
“I just made a list of people I’d like to talk to and started working on the list,” she says. “I was glad people wanted to show up.”
The series, which also airs on Food Network in abridged form (Saturdays, noon EDT/PDT) and has a companion podcast, offers a simple premise: come to Ina’s, cook some food, drink some booze, and spill your guts.
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Chatting over Zoom from her familiar kitchen on a recent sunny afternoon, Garten is all smiles as she gushed about her guests and how they inspire her.
“I’ve been doing a cooking show for 20 years, and I just decided it was time to shake it up,” she says of her decision to try a celebrity interview show. “I have an attention span of 20 years.”
Always studious and well-prepared, Garten meticulously researches her guests and has pages of notes in front of her as she sits down for their conversations, which were filmed last fall. Normally comfortable in front of the camera, she admits it was “scary” to try something new.
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“I mean, I’m not a journalist, it’s not my natural habitat,” she says. “My first interview was Willie Geist, and I had all my notes ready. There were three pages of questions I wanted to ask him and I just started the conversation, and at one point I told my manager , ‘Do we have nearly 45 minutes?’ She said we’d been talking for two hours. I was like, ‘Oh my God. That was just fun.”
Garten found material from Margulies, who stopped for margaritas and halibut and cried at Garten’s dinner table, declaring the host to be “the new Barbara Walters!”
Garten brings tears to her guests in part because she’s easy-going and easy-going, personality traits that have drawn her newfound fans during the COVID-19 pandemic. Popular on Instagram, Garten has gone viral over the past two years, most notably with a giant quarantine cosmopolitan cocktail.
She is positively tickled by her video and her status as a meme and online celebrity (photos of Garten appear regularly in jokes about her penchant for telling viewers that using store-bought ingredients is “fine”). “I had this huge glass and I was like, ‘Oh, maybe I’ll make a big (one),'” she said of the video of the cocktail party, which was viewed more than 3.2 million times. “I didn’t know what was going to happen. It was like, boom!”
Garten was as grateful to connect with her fans as she was to see her happy posts and recipes.
“I started making recipes for Instagram so people would know what to do with things they (freakishly) bought in their pantry, like white beans,” she says. “It was really good because I felt really connected to people in a way that I didn’t (before). I did it to help other people, but it ended up saving me. It was good.”
Garten wants to continue helping people with “Be My Guest” and hopes to emphasize that the famous people she talks to aren’t any more special than us.
“People think successful people were just more talented,” she says. “What I’ve found is that successful people succeed because they overcome problems. If they hit a wall, they find a way around the wall or over the wall. They get rid of the wall.”
Garten managed to tape the new show and said that on her second interview she was much closer to the 45 minutes allotted to her for each guest. But she’s still not sure if she’s a good interviewer.
When I bring up Margulies’ comparison of Garten and Walters, Garten is humble, noting that she and Margulies cried together.
“Barbara Walters don’t cry!” Garten said.
Maybe not, but can she roast a perfect chicken?