Ina Garten

Barefoot Contessa, postapocalyptic gourmand.

You used to work as a nuclear policy analyst—
I can guarantee you this is more fun.

So what should we be serving after a nuclear apocalypse?
Brownies! [Laughs] It's actually amazing, because after 9/11 a lot of people said to me they went to the grocery store and got the ingredients to make my brownies. But I feel that way all the time—food should be comforting, it should make us feel good. It's not about, you know, octopus eyeballs. It's about roast chicken and just delicious food.

Do you ever get writer's block?
Well it's a cookbook, it's not like writing the great American novel [Laughs]. No, I love doing it, I wake up in the morning and think, What do I feel like doing? And what I feel like doing is testing recipes.

Is it true you have a pilot's license?
Yeah, but fortunately for the world I don't use it.

Was that just so you could avoid airplane food?
[Laughs] No! It was when I was in my twenties and I just always thought it was a very romantic notion to fly a plane. And I did.

And was it romantic?
No, it was like running a taxi. And a scary one.

Did you entertain a lot before you turned cooking into a business?
That's really why I did it. When I worked in Washington I used to give a dinner party every weekend—I think more as an excuse to cook than anything else, but also to do something else that was really fun.

In the show filmed at your Hamptons home, everything looks very beautiful. Were you always a fancy kind of lady?
I think there's a difference between stylish and fancy. I always think the best things are like a couturier dress where if the fabric is really good, you just have to cut it very simply to make a beautiful dress. And I feel that way about food. I don't think my cooking is fancy at all, it's just very good simple food. But if you serve a grilled cheese sandwich and a bowl of homemade cream of tomato soup beautifully it can be very stylish without being fancy. I don't see myself as being someone who's fancy at all.

You have both culinary talent and a business brain. Do you think you can make it big in the culinary world if you're only good at one of those things?
I think any art requires business sense and I think that the people who have done really well, if they don't have it... Like, Yves Saint Laurent was a creative genius but not a business person; he needed Pierre Berg. I think a lot of very talented creative people have to pair themselves up with somebody who's a really smart business person. I'm really a business person that enjoys cooking. But I certainly don't put myself in the category of an artistic talent.

Do you have a business partner?
I have a business partner for one particular part of my business, which is the Barefoot Contessa baking mixes. But for everything else I'm on my own. I like the creative part of what I do but I also like the business strategy of what I do. I wouldn't like just doing one of those.

Plus you'd have to share the kitchen.
I'm not sharing anything! [Laughs]

What's your junk food? Do you ever get a $2 pizza slice and eat it standing up when no one's looking?
I have to say I'm not a big junk food person. To me, great French cheese and a baguette is my idea of junk food.

If I tell you I had frozen pizza for dinner last night, would that upset you?
Not at all. Everybody eats what they feel like eating. I'm certainly not someone who would tell everybody else how to eat. I mean, a friend of mine made a dinner of Wheat Thins and M&Ms. And I thought, Okay, that's what she needs right now.... I'm certainly not one to prescribe how people eat. What I just like to do is, if you feel like cooking, here's a really easy recipe that you can actually do. But nobody eats like that all the time.

Not even you?
No. I've had my share of oatmeal dinners.

Garten's newest cookbook, Barefoot Contessa: How Easy Is That?, is available now. Buy it on Amazon.com | Buy it on BN.com