“Barefoot Contessa: Cook Like a Pro” Is a Gentle Culinary Bootcamp for Home Cooks

updated May 30, 2019
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Imagine if you could pull Ina Garten into your very own kitchen and have her walk you through how to cook. Not just recipes, but the miniature actions and skills that are muscle memory to a culinary pro. With her swingy lob and trademark denim button-down, you two could be elbow to elbow, suddenly kitchen pals as she showed you the exact moment when yeast comes alive or how to shingle prosciutto onto a tartine.

This can be your life. No, seriously.

Once a week, block out the world, turn on Barefoot Contessa: Cook Like a Pro, and get a light-hearted master class from a lovable food icon.

I love every iteration of Barefoot Contessa, from the way throwback episodes where she’s constantly hosting a giant outdoor dinner party to the cozy Cooking for Jeffrey seasons. And in a lot of ways, Cook Like a Pro is instantly recognizable, comforting in its similarity to the original show. “How easy is that?” is peppered throughout each episode. The ingredients are fresh, the shots are stunning, and Ina is Ina: delightful and soothing. In the words of Wolfgang Puck in the first episode of this season, “You are not my contessa — you are my queen!”

The intense attention to detail is where Cook Like a Pro shines, and shifts slightly from previous Barefoot Contessa seasons. “I’m Ina Garten. I’ve been cooking and baking for decades and I’m going to teach you some of the secrets I’ve learned along the way so you too can cook like a pro,” she announces at the start of each episode. The focus here is really on how to cook, not just how to create a handful of dishes. So each recipe is used as a springboard to teach you a set of skills that you can carry into all of your cooking.

The intense attention to detail is where Cook Like a Pro shines, and shifts slightly from previous Barefoot Contessa seasons.

In episode two, she reveals all the tiny skills you need to make a perfect fruit salad. From watching her put together this simple recipe, you learn how to hull a strawberry, split and scrape a vanilla bean, and gut a papaya. A fish cakes recipe in episode one becomes an opportunity to walk through the finer points of breadcrumb selection, explaining how and when to use a seasoned crumb vs. a panko crumb.

Through Instagram-ready overhead shots, popping with big colors and simple layouts, Ina guides us through how to assemble a cheese plate, how to make a stunning smoked salmon platter, and how to set a variety of tables centered around a big one-pot dinner party main course.

The style of entertaining in Cook Like a Pro is way more accessible than in the original Barefoot Contessa. Sure, everything is still an opportunity for a party. But these are parties that are way easier to put together than some of her throwback shindigs. “After all these years cooking, even I find it daunting to throw a dinner party,” she says, pointing to the smorgasbord of courses required just to fill your table.

Her secret to the best dinner party ever is the single-dish menu — a big robust meal that combines meat, vegetable, and starch in one pot so everyone feels heartily fed and you don’t have to play one-night-only fine-dining chef. And while having people over for breakfast is fun, Ina refuses to wake up early to cook for a crowd. She offers us a mix-and-match menu of easy, make-ahead breakfasts that you can simply stir or reheat as you yawn through your first cup of coffee.

The hard part about cooking isn’t reading instructions or compiling ingredients.

The hard part about cooking isn’t reading instructions or compiling ingredients. It can feel like that’s the problem, but it’s really about the small unknowns. Like do you rinse the chicken before you roast it? (Answer: no.) What does bread dough look like when it’s ready? Why shouldn’t I put all these lamb shanks in the pan at the same time?

That’s the gift of Cook Like a Pro. For those times when you can’t find someone to gently guide you in the kitchen, there’s Ina in half-hour increments, doling out her decades worth of pro secrets. How easy it that?