What It’s Really Like To Be The Barefoot Contessa: Ina Garten’s Life Story

celebrity | 9/13/19

Barefoot Contessa is now in its 26th season and better than ever. People tune into the cooking and lifestyle show to get some recipe ideas, but they keep watching week after week because of Ina Garten’s unique ability to make you feel like you’re being wrapped in a warm cozy blanket.

Ina’s life seems to be too perfect. On any given Sunday she might just nip down to the farmer’s market, pick up some fresh herbs, and whip up a French dessert that none of us have heard of before. Her husband pops in to have a taste, and we’re all astounded by how simple the whole scene was to create. Is Ina’s life really that perfect, though? Keep reading to find out.

Ina Didn’t Want To Be On Camera

Ina Oatmeal
Photo via The Food Network
Photo via The Food Network

Ina Garten became famous for writing cookbooks before she ever appeared on television. Food Network executives took notice of her success and approached her about hosting her own cooking show.

Ina rejected the offer several times. She didn’t think that she wanted to be the face of a Food Network show She only accepted the offer after Nigella Lawson’s production company came on board. After she signed the deal, Barefoot Contessa quickly became one of the highest-rated shows on Food Network.

She Worked For The White House—But Not As A Chef

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Instagram
Instagram

Ina Garten attended Syracuse University as a teenager, but she put her studies on hold to support her husband in his military career. In the ’70s she went back to school to earn an MBA at George Washington University.

That degree opened a lot of doors for Ina. She got hired by the White House and eventually ended up working in the national Office of Management and Budget. Her job was to write the nuclear energy budget and policy papers on nuclear centrifuge plants for Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter.

Her Snap Decision To Buy A Store

Barefoot Contessa
Photo By Matthew Peyton/Getty Images
Photo By Matthew Peyton/Getty Images

Ina realized that while she was earning a good living in Washington, she wasn’t living her dream. She loved cooking and traveling, and she wanted to enter the culinary arena. In 1978, she spotted a 400 square foot store for sale and she bought it on a whim.

It was a specialty food store called Barefoot Contessa and it was located in New York City. Ina went all-in with a lot of business knowledge, but no practical experience running a retail store.

The Store Was A Wild Success

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Instagram
Instagram

Even though Ina jumped into a running a retail store head first, she managed to turn that little space into a thriving business. She ran Barefoot Contessa for twenty years, and the store became popular with some very high profile customers.

Lauren Bacall and Steven Spielberg would often stop by for some local produce or delectable baked goods. After a year in business, Ina purchased a larger storefront and moved her operation to East Hampton.

All About Jeffrey

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Instagram
Instagram

Ina’s husband Jeffrey makes regular appearances on Barefoot Contessa. Usually, he gets to taste all of the delicious food that his wife makes. Ina met Jeffrey when she was 15 years old. They dated for a while and got married when they were in their twenties.

Jeffrey Garten is pretty impressive in his own right. He worked as the Undersecretary of Commerce for International Trade and was the Yale School of Management dean. He has also served in the U.S. military.

Her First Cookbook Flew Off The Shelves

Cookbook
Photo by Vince Talotta/Toronto Star via Getty Images
Photo by Vince Talotta/Toronto Star via Getty Images

Ina was a businesswoman who loved cooking. In 1999, she began writing her first cookbook. Ina had dreams of sharing her love of food with the world just like Julia Child did before her. She put all of her energy into writing The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook.

Ina didn’t have much of a marketing budget at the time, but her book still sold over 100,00 copies in its first year of publication. The book was a massive success, and since then Ina has gone on to write 11 more cookbooks that have sold over six million copies.

A Self Taught Chef

Julia Childs
Photo By Cyrus McCrimmon/The Denver Post via Getty Images
Photo By Cyrus McCrimmon/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Ina fell in love with French cuisine when she vacationed in France for four months in the 1970s. She loved that French cuisine celebrated ingredients as they came, and elevated ingredients without obscuring them.

When she returned to America, she opened Julia Child’s cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking. She made it her mission to actually master the art of French cooking, and Julia’s book didn’t let her down. Her husband and her friends all had a great time tasting the fruits of her labor.

A Record-Breaking Book Deal

Book Signing
Photo by Amy Sussman/Getty Images for Food Network
Photo by Amy Sussman/Getty Images for Food Network

Cookbooks sell better than most other kinds of books, but what Ina accomplished was impressive even for cookbook standards. Ina was able to secure the most lucrative culinary book deal in the history of cookbook publishing. Her business sense really helped her in the negotiating department.

In addition to book deals, Garten has been offered many endorsement deals and even her own magazine. She turned all of those deals down because she wanted to keep her life and her brand simple.

She Wrote A Column For Oprah

Ina Writing
Photo by Michael Bezjian/WireImage/Getty Images
Photo by Michael Bezjian/WireImage/Getty Images

The one and only Oprah Winfrey is a big fan of Ina Garten. Oprah liked Ina’s style so much that she asked her to write a column for O magazine. Oprah is very selective about her magazine contributors, so this was a huge honor for Garten.

Ina has contributed to Oprah’s magazine several times over the years. She also had a question and answer column in House Beautiful called “Ask the Barefoot Contessa” which ran until 2011.

She’s Friends With Michelle Obama

Ina and Michelle
Official White House Photo by Amanda Lucidon
Official White House Photo by Amanda Lucidon

Ina Garten supported Barack Obama during his presidential campaign. In 2016, she did a one-hour special called Barefoot in Washington that featured Garten having lunch with Michelle Obama. She cooked for Michelle using ingredients sourced from the White House vegetable garden.

Since then, Ina and Michelle have become quite good friends. They are often seen eating lunch together whenever Michelle visits New York City. Forget Michelle and Obama, this is the power couple that we’ve been waiting for.

She Supports LGBTQ Causes

Neil Patrick Harris
Photo by Ina Garten/Instagram
Photo by Ina Garten/Instagram

Ina Garten is a registered Democrat and a feminist. She supports Planned Parenthood, and she even hosted the 16th annual Planned parenthood fundraising event. She often has openly gay guests on her show, and she has always been outspoken about her support of the LGBTQ community.

When talking about families, she said, “It’s not as simple as two parents with 2-3 kids… it’s about relationships… it’s about people who are bound together by love and a sense of being responsible for one another… it’s a group of women who meet to cook dinner together once a month… it’s two men who’ve made a life together… love is all we have… getting love, but even more, feeling love.”

Her Love For Jeffrey Is Obvious

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@inagarten/Instagram
@inagarten/Instagram

Ina and Jeffery’s marriage almost seems too perfect at times. Ina always thanks Jefferey for everything he’s done for her, and it’s clear that she feels so lucky to be in the relationship that she’s in. Ina has said that without Jeffrey’s support, she would have never had the confidence to switch from working in the White House to opening her own store.

Ina always says that her perfect day would be a “Sunday in Paris, with Jeffrey.” Many of her cookbooks contain a dedication to her husband, but her tenth cookbook Cooking for Jeffrey: A Barefoot Contessa Cookbook took that dedication and made it the star of the show.

Why She Never Had Children

Ina and her Husband
Photo by Jim Spellman/WireImage/Getty Images
Photo by Jim Spellman/WireImage/Getty Images

Ina Garten feels like everybody’s mother or grandmother. She has a very warm and nurturing presence, which left a lot of people wondering why she never had children on her own. Ina discussed her decision not to have children with interviewer Katie Couric:

“We decided not to have children,” she said. “I really appreciate that other people do and we will always have friends that have children that we are close to but it was a choice I made very early. I really felt, I feel, that I would have never been able to have the life I’ve had. So it’s a choice and that was the choice I made.”

Her Mom Wouldn’t Let Her Cook

Ina Cooking
Photo via The Food Network
Photo via The Food Network

Ina Garten may have inherited some of her feminist ideology from her own mother. Ina’s mother wanted Ina to get an education and break several glass ceilings. She didn’t want her daughter to be stuck in a kitchen like so many women before her.

Ina realized that cooking was her passion and that she could still be a fierce feminist and a business lady without giving up on her beliefs compromising her values. She thinks that everybody belongs in the kitchen, not just women. Food is for everybody.

Not Without Criticism

Ina and Cookies
Photo via The Food Network
Photo via The Food Network

People have very strong feelings about nutrition and diet nowadays, and it seems like what’s good for you and what isn’t comes in and out of fashion. Is rich French cooking the healthiest thing in the world? No, and Ina knows that. But as long as you indulge in moderation, how much harm can a butter croissant really do?

The Physicians Committee of Responsible Medicine criticized Garten’s book, Barefoot Contessa: How Easy Is That? because of the high-fat and high-cholesterol content of her recipes.

She’s Besties With Taylor Swift

Taylor and Ina
Photo via The Food Network
Photo via The Food Network

Taylor Swift appeared on an episode of Barefoot Contessa, but after the show, Ina and Taylor formed a pretty close friendship.

“She’s very smart and very interesting and she loves her friends,” Garten said of the singer. “She is wise beyond her years, to say the least.” Who knew that Ina Garten was part of Taylor Swift’s girl squad? Why wasn’t she in the “Bad Blood” music video, Taylor? Ina Garten in a Taylor Swift music video would be everything we never knew we needed.

Martha Stewart Gave Her A Helping Hand

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Michael Bezjian/WireImage
Michael Bezjian/WireImage

In many ways, Ina Garen is the new Martha Stewart. These two are both strong business-minded women who have taken their cooking and lifestyle brands to new heights. Martha actually met Ina at her store in East Hampton. She put Ina in touch with a book editor when she was developing her first cookbook.

“My desk was right in front of the cheese case and we just ended up in a conversation,” Garten said. “We ended up actually doing benefits together where it was at her house and I was the caterer and we became friends after that.”

How She Feels About Food Trends

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@Inagarten/Instagram
@Inagarten/Instagram

Whether it’s a cronut or juicing celery, there’s always some new food trend on the horizon. Ina told Southern Living exactly how she feels about all of those food trends clogging up our Instagram feeds:

“‘I like coffee to taste like coffee’,” she said, dismissing pumpkin spice lattes with one fell swoop. Garten is Switzerland when it comes to matcha as she’s never tried it, but hates pineapple pizza. And she’s not about unicorn foods: ‘If I don’t know what it is, I’m probably not going to eat it.’ She also isn’t a fan of kombucha, saying, ‘I’m not big on anything that’s fermented.'”

There Were Barefoot Contessa Cake Mixes

Brownies
Photo by Shannon O’Hara/Getty Images for Pizza Hut
Photo by Shannon O’Hara/Getty Images for Pizza Hut

Back in 2006, if you wanted all the flavor of a Barefoot Contessa cake and you wanted to do a fraction of the work, you could purchase a pre-packaged cake mix from Barefoot Contessa Pantry. The product was sold in gourmet food stores for a pretty heft price. A box of her brownie mix retailed for $10.

Six years later in 2012, the product line was discontinued. The ingredients in the mixes were making them too expensive to produce.

How She Really Feels About Donald Trump

Ina Stew
Photo via The Food Network
Photo via The Food Network

Ina Garten has mostly stayed quiet about Donald Trump’s presidency. In a 2018 interview with former New York Times critic Frank Bruni, she answered some questions about the types of food that she would most like to serve to various political personalities.

She said she would serve Elizabeth Warren a lobster macaroni and cheese, Beto O’Rourke would get a pulled pork shoulder with maple beans, cornbread, and a kale salad, and Joe Biden would get “Something fun, like a lobster and clambake.” When asked about Donald Trump she said, “a subpoena.”

She Indulges In Fast Food Every Now And Again

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inagarten/Instagram
inagarten/Instagram

ina Garten doesn’t just eat mushroom ragout and braised lamb all the time. She likes to hang out in fast food joints sometimes too. She told People magazine, “I love Shake Shack. It’s so good. I love their fried chicken sandwich.”

Garten has also been spotted enjoying certain In-N-Out delicacies. Animal style fries, anyone? Ina may be into fast food, but she never orders Chinese take-out. She had one bad experience that put her off cheap chow mein forever.

How Fame Has Changed Her

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Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for TIME
Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for TIME

Ina never wanted to be the face of her own television show. She was content with her store and her cookbooks. Fame was never what she was after.

“I don’t think being famous ever makes anyone happy. But I think at this point in my life I love that people enjoy my work. Cookbooks give people the tools to do something for themselves, and it makes them feel good. So I love that,” Garten told People magazine.

Creeping Self-Doubt Never Really Goes Away

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inagarten/Instagram
inagarten/Instagram

Ina Garten seems pretty flawless, but we all know that nobody can really be that perfect. Ina has admitted that even as a culinary powerhouse, she still feels anxious about living up to her own image:

“I’m the most anxious cook. People always say ‘People must be so nervous to invite you to dinner,’ but it’s actually just the opposite. I’m nervous when I invite people to my house because I think they expect something spectacular. And, you know, sometimes it is, and sometimes it’s good but not great,” she once said.

She Loves A Good Instagram Post

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inagarten/Instagram
inagarten/Instagram

Ina Garten is a woman of a certain age. Most people older than 50 don’t really have a handle on what social media is all about. Of course, Ina had to learn how to use social media so that she could connect with her fans. At first, she didn’t quite get Instagram or Facebook, but then she learned to appreciate the platforms:

“Immediately I thought it was very interesting because people comment on things, and people have great ideas. I read a lot of the comments. And now I’m obsessed with Instagram. I love watching what other people are doing,” she said.

Ina Garten Will Never Use This One Ingredient

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Daniel Zuchnik/WireImage
Daniel Zuchnik/WireImage

Ina Garten loves all kinds of foods, ingredients, and cuisines, but there is one ingredient that you will never find in her kitchen. She absolutely hates cilantro. “I can’t stand it,” she told People.

Ina is not alone. People who have an aversion to cilantro carry a gene that actually allows them to taste very mild toxins in the herb. One of Ina’s parents was very likely cilantro-averse as well. People who hate cilantro report that it kind of tastes soapy to them.

Ina Garten’s Drink Of Choice

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inagarten/Instagram
inagarten/Instagram

If you’ve ever wondered what Ina’s favorite alcoholic beverage is, you’rein luck. She told TIME magazine that her go-to drink in the summer is a whiskey sour. “But they have to be homemade, with fresh juice and good bourbon – Knob Creek,” she added.

You can find a recipe for Ina’s favorite whiskey sour in her book, Barefoot Contessa at Home. The recipe involves the whiskey of choice, freshly squeezed lime and lemon juice, a simple syrup, and some Maraschino cherries.

She Is Dedicated To Her Fans

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Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for TIME
Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for TIME

Ina never set out to be famous, but now that she has millions of adoring fans, she really appreciates the support and the joy that they give her.

“One of my favorite things was when I was walking up Madison Avenue one time and a woman walked by in a big fur coat and said, ‘Oh, darling, I love your cookbooks.’ And about a half a block later, a truck driver leaned out of his truck and yelled at me, ‘Hey, babe, love your show! I thought, That’s the world of food. It’s everybody,” she once recalled.

Always Do This With Cheese

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inagarten/Instagram
inagarten/Instagram

Ina Garten’s cooking methods may be simple, but she never takes any shortcuts. Fresh ingredients are the most important part of Ina’s cooking philosophy.

Ina thinks it’s ok to get some premade or store-bought ingredients, but pre-shredded cheese is a definite no-no. It doesn’t take very long to grate cheese yourself, plus pre-shredded cheeses are usually coated in some kind of starch, which keeps the cheese from clumping, but it also keeps it from melting nicely.

The One Recipe She Still Hasn’t Perfected

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inagarten/Instagram
inagarten/Instagram

Ina Garten has taught us how to make everything from roast chicken to apple tarts to authentic pecan scones. She’s self-taught, but she obviously taught herself very well. Still, there’s one recipe that she hasn’t been able to master.

“I’ve been working on Boston cream pie for about three books, and I haven’t gotten the balance and flavors and textures quite right,” she told TIME. We can’t wait to see if there’s a perfected Boston cream pie recipe in her next cookbook.

She Thinks Before She Speaks

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inagarten/Instagram
inagarten/Instagram

We already know that Ina Garten definitely leans Democrat in her politics, but she has remained relatively apolitical, especially when she appears on national talk shows. She takes a playful jab and Trump every now and again, but mostly, she likes to keep the focus on her cooking.

Ina has said, “I don’t ever want to offend somebody. If they have different political views, I’m happy to discuss it, but tempers run high and it depends on who you’re talking to.”

Her Beautiful Country Home

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inagarten/Instagram
inagarten/Instagram

On Barefoot Contessa we often see Ina Garten’s barn-like home in East Hampton, New York. Garten designed this home herself with the help of architect Frank Greenwald. She wanted to feel like she was living in the Belgian countryside.

“All my guests love to sit on the stone sitting wall before dinner, having a glass of wine,” she told Home Beautiful. We seriously envy anybody who’s been lucky enough to receive an invitation to one of Ina’s dinner parties.

A Second Home In The City

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Ina Garten/Facebook
Ina Garten/Facebook

Ina has made enough money now to afford a second home in the heart of Manhattan. She and Jeffrey stay here when they’re doing business in the big city. They apparently paid $4.65 million for a pre-war home on the corner of Park Avene and 62nd Street.

Even though this house is in the middle of the Big Apple, it still is quite roomy. It has a 19 x 36-foot living room complete with a wood-burning fireplace and a full library.

The Basics According To Ina Garten

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inagarten/Instagram
inagarten/Instagram

If you don’t know how to cook anything at all, Ina says there are two things you need to learn how to cook before anything else. Those two things are roast chicken and coffee.

Roast chicken is seriously underrated, plus it can easily feed a whole bunch of hungry guests. Coffee is just a necessity, and there’s no alternative to good coffee. Ina Garten’s roast chicken recipes are some of the most revered recipes that she’s ever developed.

She Knows How To Fly A Plane

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inagarten/Instagram
inagarten/Instagram

You might be surprised to learn that self-taugh chef extraordinaire, Ina Garten has had a pilot’s license since the 1970s.

She got her pilot’s license while she and Jeffrey were living in North Carolina while Jeffrey was in the military. Ina said, “My roommate in college was an aerospace engineer. She had a pilot’s license. So I always thought it was very cool.” It was difficult for her to find an instructor who was willing to teach a woman how to fly, but eventually, she found an excellent teacher.

She’s Never Watched Barefoot Contessa

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Ina Garten/Facebook
Ina Garten/Facebook

Most of the people who know and love Ina Garten now first encountered her on her Food Network show, Barefoot Contessa. Ina has actually never seen her own show, though.

When a Buzzfeed reporter asked Ina if she watches Barefoot Contessa, she responded, “Oh, I just think that if I had to watch the show, I’d never do it again. I just don’t understand it. I’m glad people like it. But I just can’t. Watching myself on TV.”

Living Life By Her Own Rules

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inagarten/Instagram
inagarten/Instagram

Ina grew up in an era where women were expected to be wives, mothers, and homemakers. Ina wanted something different for herself, though.

“I grew up in a generation of women who didn’t expect to work. When I was in college I just assumed I’d get married and that would be my life. I was just at the cusp of women waking up and saying, ‘Wait a minute, I could actually have a great life. I can do whatever I want,'” she told Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Jeffrey Taught Her About Feminism

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inagarten/Instagram
inagarten/Instagram

Jeffery is a pretty forward-thinking man, and he’s always been supportive of his wife’s goals and ambitions.

Ina said, “He always encouraged me to do what I love… I have often said Jeffrey was the first feminist I ever met. He said, ‘What are you going to do with your life? You really need to do something. Otherwise you won’t be happy.’ It had never occurred to me. He actually encouraged me, which has been amazing.”

Life Isn’t Always Perfect

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Ina Garten/Facebook
Ina Garten/Facebook

Ina Garten is a professional dinner party thrower, but even she has rough nights when it comes to hosting. it just goes to show that even the best of the best mess up sometimes:

“It was 20 people for brunch and I decided to make an omelet for everybody. I spent the entire time in the kitchen making omelets one after the other. I think it took me a year to give another party. I was so traumatized by it,” she recalled.

Happiness According To Ina

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inagarten/Instagram
inagarten/Instagram

Ina has said that the one thing that makes her truly happy is “Sundays in Paris with Jeffrey. We go to the Sunday market, make a nice lunch, drink a big bottle of Burgundy, and then take a long delicious nap. Heaven.”

She also told Vanity Fair that she absolutely hates alarm clocks and she’s trained herself to wakeup without one so she never has to hear that annoying beeping. Ina is truly living her dream.

That One Time She Blew Off Make-A-Wish

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Paul Zimmerman/WireImage
Paul Zimmerman/WireImage

Ina Garten is known for her warm and inviting presence, but her character was called into question when she refused to meet with a six-year-old Make-A-Wish kid in 2011. She said she was too busy on book tour to meet with this little boy who had Leukemia.

The family reached out again after her book tour, but Ina was still too busy. She did try to have the boy on her show, but unfortunately, it didn’t work out.