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Barefoot Contessa Ina Garten was unaware of request, but will now host her young fan

March 28, 2011 | 11:52 am

Garten The Barefoot Contessa is no Heartless Contessa, and has been "devastated" by criticism leveled against her.

It was only this weekend that Food Network star Ina Garten, a.k.a. the Barefoot Contessa, learned that a young boy named Enzo had a long-standing request to meet her through the Make-A-Wish Foundation, according to a spokesman. Garten gets about 100 requests per month, and wasn't aware that the request had been made or rejected. Touched by the young fan's desire to meet her, Garten is calling Enzo today to speak with him and invite him to join her at the Food Network studios, according to a statement released on Garten's behalf.

The statement also underscored the demands that are placed on public figures such as Garten, and the difficult choices that must be made:

"She contributes both personally and financially on a regular basis to numerous causes, including to Make-A-Wish Foundation. Sadly, it’s of course not possible to do them all. Throughout her life, Ina has contributed generously to all kinds of important efforts and she will continue to do so."

Garten was completely blindsided by the media firestorm this weekend over her reported refusals to meet with the young boy suffering from cancer. The boy would watch Garten from his sick bed, and twice requested a meeting with her through Make-A-Wish. The second time the request was made, Garten's representatives -- unbeknown to her -- gave the family a "definite no." Disappointed, the boy's family wrote about the rejection on its blog. From there, it was picked up by TMZ and exploded online, with criticism raining down on Garten's head. (We wrote about the controversy here.)

A source close to Garten said that the Barefoot Contessa believes charity and public works are part of duty as a public figure and that she works extensively for a variety of causes, including  battered women,  cancer patients, AIDS awareness and animal rights. "She was personally devastated" by all the criticism, the source said.

Even the little boy's family came to Garten's defense, with a blog post entitled: "Please Stop the Madness," which said the story was being blown out of proportion. The family said it did not hold any ill will toward Garten when Garten's representatives repeatedly told them that the Barefoot Contessa was unavailable to meet with little Enzo. While disappointed, they said they understood that, sometimes, things do not work out:

"I had written about our disappointment when we originally found out, but asked everyone in the spirit of Enzo to 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... Enzo found great comfort in watching her cook when he was going through his toughest times and for that we are so grateful."

No doubt, the family will be happy to get that phone call from Garten.

What do you think about this latest turn of events?

-- Rene Lynch
Twitter / renelynch

Photo courtesy Ina Garten representatives