On any given episode of Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa, there’s plenty to drool over: delicate salads of mixed greens and fresh tomatoes, chocolate angel food cake baking in the oven, a well-shaken martini with plenty of Vermouth. From the beautifully crafted tablescapes created by Miguel to Ina’s personalized sugar cookie “place cards,” the show says to viewers, “This is the Hamptons. We’ve got plenty of money and plenty of time, so have a cocktail and admire this manzanita branch and cranberry centerpiece while the spice-rubbed lamb roasts in the oven.” To the casual viewer, Ina’s house (well-appointed with a restaurant-quality kitchen and acres of yard space) and her lifestyle (nothing to do all day but cook for the passel of friends who will roll on up around six and toast one another with top-quality liquor and rich appetizers) could be off-putting and pretentious. But those who watch on a regular basis know better: Ina may be living the high life, but she welcomes every opportunity to share it with others, including the viewers watching, in their sweats, from their tiny rented apartments.
And, indeed, part of what makes this show so much fun to watch is the camera work, which captures every glistening sprinkle of sea salt, every glint of an ice cube, every ribbon of chocolate being swirled into an elegant mousse. You can practically hear the camera people remarking, in awed whispers, “Doesn’t that look good?”
If you watch the show regularly, you are accustomed to this kind of footage that many people regard as “food porn.” But there’s more eye candy to be had besides the actual candy (and cookies and olive-oil-laden fettunta) in Ina’s kitchen, and his name is T. R. Pescod.
Most Barefoot Contessa episodes wouldn’t be complete without a visit from at least one of Ina’s gay male friends. It might be Miguel the home stylist or Michael the florist–an episode of BC often seems like a modern-day, food-focused version of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood where the question asked is, “Who are the gay men in your neighborhood, and what ‘entertaining at home’ services can they provide?” Because we are used to seeing these gentlemen smoothing out tablecloths or arranging brightly colored tulips in a special bouquet, it was a bit odd to be introduced to “T.R.,” who, as an actor by trade, can contribute little by way of labor to whatever party Ina is throwing.
But what T.R. is unable to contribute through talent and professional experience is more than made up for by what he contributes in drool-factor: a chiseled face, hair with just enough silver, and a body that was certainly not formed by a steady diet of Ms. Garten’s butter-rich pastries and sauces. Indeed, T.R. is tasty enough to upstage even Ina’s fabulous cuisine. The shows videographers, trained as they are to give us tantalizing close-ups of a gloriously fresh piece of meat, do not miss opportunities when T.R. stops in to say hello. Here’s T.R.’s blue eyes, shining with mischief as he takes a sip of his drink; here’s T.R.’s toned arms reaching for some roquefort cheese. The close-ups are frequent, and it’s all a straight girl can do not to squeal with delight while thinking, “Yes, yes that does look good.”
On a recent episode, T.R.’s contribution to the meal was to be a “recipe-tester” for Ina, a task she noted is normally relegated to her agent. But since it’s unlikely her agent is anywhere near as hot as T.R., why not have him come over instead to test things out? Plus, doing so gives us opportunities to see T.R. out shopping and errand-running and imagine ourselves along for the ride.
Ina clearly enjoys the company of all of her friends, joking and chuckling with them in the final scenes of each show, when the guests have arrived, the alcohol’s been poured, and everyone’s tucking in for a spectacular feast. But she seems practically giddy when it’s T.R. knocking on the door. He may be gay and twenty years her junior, but that’s not gonna stop Ina from being excited over what Mr. Prescod has to offer. She greets him at the door with a hug and a kiss, calls him “sweetie,” and takes every opportunity to pat him on the shoulder. And who could blame her? Certainly not this viewer, and apparently not the camera folks, either. Even I had to blush during the recipe-testing episode when, in a shot that (with any other “friend of Ina”) would normally involve a quick peck on the cheek goodbye, T.R. instead kissed Ina on the lips (On. The. Lips!!!!), and the camera positioned itself behind Ina’s head, so that the effect was that of T.R. leaning in to give the viewer a big, moist-lipped smooch. Oh, T.R.! Goodness!
The endless parties, the luscious libations, the stews, roasts, and elegant table settings…I love it all, and I welcome more of it. Keep the fabulous recipes and party ideas coming, Ina. I’ll keep watching, and I’ll have an extra spring in my step when you serve that roast chicken on a platter of T.R.