Why Ina Garten Always Follows Recipes To A T

You might think that being able to cook without a recipe means you're a culinary master. After all, on most cooking shows, you rarely ever see any chefs or contestants opening up a cookbook. But contrary to what TV leads you to believe, following a recipe isn't always an indicator of a lack of skill. Even the Barefoot Contessa herself does it, including when it comes to the ones she created herself. "I measure everything because I always think that if I've spent so much time making sure this recipe was exactly the way I want it, why would I want to throw things into a pot?," Ina Garten said in an interview with Epicurious

Garten is also comfortable following recipes to a T because it's the way she learned to cook. Rather than from her mother or through culinary school, Garten tells Indie Bound that she gained most of her cooking skills by following the recipes in Julia Child's famous two-volume cookbook "Mastering the Art of French Cooking."

Ina Garten's cooking isn't always as effortless as it looks

Even though she's been on the Food Network since 2002, in an episode of "60 Minutes," Ina Garten said, "I'm really not a confident cook." She explained she still hesitates to trust her instincts in the kitchen. "I know people don't believe this, but I'm really a nervous cook, and I'm sure every recipe is going to turn out wrong, so I'm incredibly precise," Garten said in the episode. "Even now. I'm there with a cookbook going, 'Is it a half a teaspoon or a whole teaspoon?'"

The only time Garten doesn't follow a recipe is if she's experimenting, or drawing inspiration from another cookbook to create an entirely new dish. According to her Epicurious interview, however, Garten also isn't totally against making substitutions in a recipe if she thinks it'll work in her favor and won't negatively affect the result, like swapping peaches for plums in a fruit tart.

Why Ina Garten's approach is worth following

Not following a recipe isn't necessarily a bad thing, but there are advantages to doing it Ina Garten's way. The main one, as Garten highlighted in the introduction of the "Barefoot Contessa: Foolproof" cookbook is that published recipes have already been tested and troubleshooted. While a recipe isn't always guaranteed to come out perfectly, sticking to the original measurements provided will give you the best shot at it.

There is a right and a wrong way to follow a recipe, though, and a variety of mistakes you should avoid. In particular, fully reading a recipe before you begin cooking rather than following along as you complete the steps is a must. This not only gives you a good idea of what to expect, like how long it'll take you, and how many people the dish is designed to serve, but it's also a good way to avoid mistakes like forgetting to reserve half of an ingredient for garnishing.

If there's any time you really shouldn't stray from a recipe, don't do it when you're making a dish for a crowd for the first time, Garten tells Food & Wine. There's no worse time to ruin a meal than when a group of hungry guests is waiting at the table. Something as minor as the oven being the wrong temperature could easily throw off the results, but it can be completely avoided just by following the recipe.