Meet the Man Cooking Every Single Ina Garten Recipe (At 650, He’s Halfway There)
Trent Pheifer is patiently awaiting an invitation to one of Ina Garten’s infamous dinner parties in the Hamptons, but in the meantime, he’s hosting his own in his apartment in NYC. Why? He’s the mystery man behind the Instagram account @StoreboughtIsFine, a not-so-subtle homage to his culinary idol, the Barefoot Contessa.
For years he’s been working his way through Ina’s entire archive of recipes (totaling over 1,200) — Julie and Julia style. He’s nearly halfway through his mission and showing no signs of stopping. A nod to one of Ina’s favorite catch phrases, @StoreboughtIsFine is a running list of Trent’s real-life trials of Ina’s recipes. Each gram is a glimpse at what Ina’s recipes look like when they’re not shot by a professional cookbook photographer — and are usually followed by his honest opinions of the food (typically glowing).
We got a chance to catch up with Trent to find out how his Ina obsession began, how he meticulously tracks his progress, and about the time that he magically ran into his idol in a Parisian restaurant.
Your aim with @StoreBoughtIsFine is to cook your way through every single Ina Garten recipe EVER. How many do you have left?
I am on 661 as of yesterday! Initially I was just going to cook through all of her books, but now I’ve also branched out to her shows as well. With all of that together, there are a little over 1,200. I’m close to the halfway mark, but she puts out a book every two years so this might be a life sentence!
So what’s your Barefoot Contessa cooking schedule like?
I wanted this to be fun, not take over my life, you know? Julie and Julia tried to do it in one year, and I feel like she didn’t enjoy it. I have to remind myself to commit to four recipes a week. If I don’t it’s fine; if I do, great. That’s usually two meals, two days of cooking like Ina.
How do you keep track?
I have the spreadsheet of all spreadsheets. I took the recipe index from her website and every single recipe from every cookbook, then separated them into categories. Within that, I have what day I made them, my rating, what changes I would make to them or notes for next time. Then I have another column of expensive or hard-to-find ingredients so I can see if something would be too much during a busy week. There’s a lot of upfront work, but I can literally pick out my menu for next week in 15 minutes. It’s a science!
Were you a good cook before you embarked on this?
I would say I was in the middle! I wasn’t incredible. When I hit college, all cooking ceased. I wrote a newspaper column my senior year and one of my tips for the underclassmen was to put condiments on Kraft singles to extend your meal plan. I’ve been in New York for almost 10 years now and got really wrapped up in all the amazing things to eat here and the fact that Trader Joe’s is down the block (lots of frozen food). It wasn’t until four or five years ago when I decided to cook more at home. I had just read Julia Child’s My Life in France and got really into food. I realized I didn’t know the basics. Then I picked up Ina’s books and got my culinary education by trying recipes I never would have normally.
Have you ever tried an Ina recipe that’s been a total flop?
The funny thing is, I’m in over 600 recipes. This is why I chose Ina. She has a lot of foolproof recipes and I know that I’m going to enjoy like, 95 percent of them. But I always try to be as honest as possible. One that sticks out in my mind is this pear and parsnip gratin. Not my favorite! I don’t love parsnips, especially when blended with pears and baked in a casserole. Plus I’m single and eat a lot of leftovers. I do not want to eat pear and parsnip gratin for a week.
Is there a recipe you still have on constant rotation, even though you’ve already checked it off the list?
There are a couple! Her weeknight bolognese is my go-to if I’m making meat sauce. So simple, so easy. Her shrimp scampi (which is one of the first recipes of hers that I ever made) is always a crowd-pleaser. From Cook like a Pro, I’m adding her chicken thighs with creamy mustard sauce to my regular rotation. I’ve been having dreams about it, telling everyone, shouting it from the rooftops. Oh, and her fig and ricotta cake … blew my mind.
What do your friends and family think about your mission?
Initially, people were like, why would you do that? But now they don’t question it because they get to reap the benefits. Cooking is the best excuse to get together. With Ina, you know the food is going to be phenomenal, so we get to eat and drink all day and have a great time. I didn’t do a lot of entertaining prior to this, but now I’ll host a brunch at noon and people won’t leave until 8 p.m.
Can you tell me more about the time you magically ran into Ina in Paris?
Everybody talks about how the food in Paris so great, so I decided to do a culinary tour with my friends. I used a lot of Ina’s shows and recommendations for planning help — she has two special Paris episodes. There was this reservation I was trying to get that’s like the hardest in town, Septime. But we couldn’t get in so we ended up booking a table at Verjus instead.
We originally had a reservation for Friday but then had to change it to Monday night. Literally all the stars aligned. There were so many chances for this not to happen. Just the fact that I was in Paris as the same time as Ina was crazy. When we walked in, it was a pretty small restaurant and I immediately saw Ina and Jeffrey. I faced away from her because I knew I wouldn’t be able to think about anything else the entire dinner. I didn’t want to bother her especially at dinner, but I knew I could not pass this up. So I waited for them to pay the check and then I introduced myself. I told her I was cooking through her recipes and that I was up to 500 at the time, and she turned to me and said “I heard you were in town!” We took a photo outside and she gave us all hugs. When you really love someone, it’s so easy to build them up in your head, but she checked every box.
What is it about her that you love so much?
I have to admit that I was a late bloomer to Ina. In my late 20s, I just became obsessed with watching Ina. You want to be invited to one of her fabulous parties where you laugh and drink wine with her. My roommate and I recorded every single episode, watched them together, and didn’t cook any of her recipes. At the time, I was cooking Pinterest recipes that I found online and had too many of them not turn out. The final straw was this cauliflower chicken Alfredo. It was the most vile dish that I’ve ever made. If I’m going to be spending all this time in the kitchen, I need to make recipes that will work. I knew Ina wouldn’t steer me wrong — and she hasn’t.
Is there one thing you’d change about her?
The one thing I wish she’d love is cilantro. I miss it in my cooking.
Do you have a favorite episode?
I love “Barefoot in Paris.” I love how much she loves Paris and to see her hopping around, going to her favorite stores. You can just tell how much she loves France and French food and it warms my heart.
I didn’t realize until I was 50 pages in of Barefoot Contessa at Home that I like that one the best. I was like, made this, made this, made that. It’s comfort food at home that you can make over and over again. What more do you need?
Aside from store-bought is fine, I love when she says “How easy is that?” Or when she says “With the volume turned up!” “Good vanilla,” emphasis on the good.
Aside from Ina (gasp), are there any other cookbook authors you love?
I absolutely adore Julia Turshen and love following her on Instagram. You can tell that she’s so warm and friendly. I love her Equity at the Table initiative and how politically active she is. Plus her food is just so good. Her ricotta turkey meatballs are to die for.
Has Ina ever commented on any of your Instagrams?
YES. I was most excited when she announced the release of Cook like a Pro. I always photoshop my face on the new cookbook cover, so I did that and then put bagged croutons in the pan and wrote that store-bought is fine. She commented on that! I love her so much that I never want her to think @StoreboughtIsFine is making fun of her in any way, but I need to remember that she has a good sense of humor. She was like “LOL! Love the bag of store-bought croutons! xxx”
Any other favorite Instagram follows that you recommend?
@Instagarten. That account gives me so much joy. As you know, I love a good Photoshop job.