Ina Garten, my substitute mum

17 Feb 2013

A sad new obsession began on a drab Monday night while waiting for University Challenge to begin. Flicking around the channels, I saw that Food Network UK had been added to Freeview.

Until last month I only knew Ina Garten as that lady that Adam the Amateur Gourmet adores; the one who did that roasted broccoli years ago. But as soon as I started watching my first episode of Barefoot Contessa: Back to Basics, I was hooked.

She was making a simple orange pound cake, loaded with butter. Sure, the cake looked good and hearty, and I admired her foresight to bake two so there’d be one for the freezer. But it took me two weeks to realise just why I found myself rushing home to be in front of the telly at 7 o’clock every night: Ina Garten looks an awful lot like my mum.

Ina Garten

The hair, the complexion, the smile; it is truly uncanny. Tuning in is like hanging out with a wealthy, American, cooking goddess version of the much-missed faraway Mothership.


  • both ladies
  • similar vintage
  • same hair colour and style
  • similar taste in shirts and chunky jewellery
  • same olive complexion
  • same twinkly eyes when smiling
  • equal enthusiasm for life, friends and food
  • both place an affectionate hand on someone’s shoulder when they’re about to say something nice to them


  • does not say “How easy is that?”
  • does not buy posh cheese
  • does not own a Kitchen Aid
  • does not have gigantic fancy house with a separate “barn” just for cooking
  • does not have fabulous friends constantly dropping by to arrange flowers while she cooks them a fabulous lunch
  • does not have bartenders naming cocktails after her (but surely this has to happen someday)


Sometimes as I watch I’ll imagine Freaky Friday life swap scenarios, where Mum is driving around East Hampton in a gigantic car buying artisan foods, attending charity auctions and yammering to camera in her Aussie accent. Meanwhile Ina is in Goulburn, hunting down the best prices at Aldi and Coles then hanging out the washing beneath the bleached sky.

Ina in the Rosemary

Even Ina’s banter with her beloved husband Jeffrey reminds me of Mum and her wonderful husband Ray. Both couples are truly cuckoo in love. When Jeffrey arrives home with steaks or French wine and Ina gazes at him with ga-ga eyes, it reminds me of the Skype chats when Ray appears with a cup of tea for Mum and she beams like a schoolgirl. And when Ina and Jeffrey wax lyrical about their recent trip to Tuscany as they scoff a bowl of pasta, I think of Mum and Ray in raptures over their latest bargain.

Ina and Jeffrey

“Did I tell you about the chicken drumsticks,” said Mum on our last Oz visit. She’d cooked a lamb roast and was recapping much she’d saved on each individual ingredient.

“I don’t think you mentioned it before?”

“Ray. Ray! Get those drumsticks out of the freezer.”

Ray sprang up from the dinner table, a man on a mission.

“Only three dollars a kilo!” he crowed triumphantly, waving two frosty packages in the air. “We got this steak, too!”

“We rescued them from the chuck-out bin,” finished Mum. “Nothing wrong with ’em!”

Gareth, Rhi and I nodded with suitable reverence, realising that Mum had indeed found her true soulmate.

It might be February blues or general mumsickness, but until I see the Mothership again, Ina and her butter-laden creations are a very decent substitute.