Ina Garten's Make-A-Wish Controversy Explained

Watch any episode of "Barefoot Contessa" and the impression you'll get of Ina Garten is that she's the sweetest lady in the food business. Her warm, welcoming demeanor is so ingrained into her brand that there are numerous articles that document her famous niceness. Elle once described her as "an oasis of easy cheer and familiarity in an era increasingly short on both." Hollywood sweetheart Jennifer Garner has said she "reveres" her (via YouTube). Even Taylor Swift has written about Garten's commendable generosity (via Time).

Because of this, it may come as a shock to some of Garten's fans to learn there was ever a time when her nice-lady reputation was ever called into question. But back in 2011, the Contessa became a somewhat controversial figure after she twice denied the Make-A-Wish Foundation's request for her to meet with a child who had a life-threatening illness (via ABC News). Here's what went down.

Garten's team claimed her schedule wouldn't let her fulfill a Make-A-Wish Foundation request

The story begins in 2010, when Make-A-Wish reached out to Garten on behalf of Enzo Pereda, a child with leukemia whose dream was to spend time with the Food Network star after watching her show throughout his treatment (via TMZ). Per an ABC News report, Garten's reps initially responded quietly to the request with a "soft no," but later issued an unambiguous refusal to fulfill the child's wish after the organization reached out again the following year. The story gained public attention after Enzo's mother wrote about her son's disappointment on her personal blog, noting how he was "heartbroken" that the star had no interest in meeting him (via ABC).

According to TMZ, Garten's reason for denying Enzo's wish wasn't personal. "Unfortunately, as much as she would like to, it's absolutely impossible for her to grant every request she receives," her team told the outlet. But some people found that hard to believe, especially since Garten reportedly found time for other events that same year. It certainly didn't help that she hosted an expensive charity lunch in the Hamptons that required guests to pay a $100,000 fee (via Business Insider). Moreover, her statement seemed inconsistent with the fact that the Los Angeles Times reported Garten had no knowledge of Enzo's situation, and claimed that it was actually her reps who turned down the request, and not Garten herself. 

The public thought Garten took too long to respond to Enzo's family

Even though Garten eventually reached out to the family and said she was willing to meet the boy, it may have been too little, too late. By the time she got back to the Pereda family to fulfill his wish, the foundation revealed that Enzo was already over it and had decided to move on to his second choice wish: swimming with dolphins (via ABC News). As a result, the internet screeds about Garten continued, with many outlets like Business Insider expressing their contempt toward the star's actions. Others, like The Wrap, specifically criticized this move since it seemed Garten conveniently only responded to the family after experiencing negative press. The public backlash also continued, with calls on the social media to boycott her show and cookbooks (via the Los Angeles Times).

Things didn't start to blow over until Enzo's mother took to her blog to insist that people stop bringing up the drama on social media and move on from the issue, according to the LA Times. In a now-deleted post, she wrote, "...Please just 'let it go' and move forward... I want to make it VERY CLEAR we have NO ANGER OR ILL WILL toward Ina Garten." Today, it remains unclear whether Garten ever actually followed through on her promise to meet Enzo. But at least the family assured the public all was forgiven between them and the star.