10 Things You Didn’t Know About Ina Garten Gallery
October 16, 2018
There’s more to the ‘Barefoot Contessa’ host than meets the eye
10 Things You Didn’t Know About Ina Garten
You may know Ina Garten as the host of Food Network’s Barefoot Contessa, but even if you’re a daily viewer (that Jeffrey is very well fed!), we bet that there are some things you didn’t know about this domestic diva.
Ina Garten (née Rosenberg) was born in Brooklyn in 1948, and was raised in Stamford, Connecticut. In 1978, she spotted an ad in The New York Times for a specialty food store that was for sale in Westhampton, New York, and, dreaming of a life in the country, she decided to pull the trigger and make the investment. The name of the store? The Barefoot Contessa.
It was a simple two-person operation, with one person working in the front of the store and another preparing food in the kitchen. While living in Washington, D.C., she had made some extra money by buying, fixing up, and re-selling row houses (also called flipping), so she used those funds to buy the shop. It became a huge success, eventually putting her in the same orbit as the Hamptons’ high society. In a new 3,000-square-foot space in the year-round community of East Hampton, she attracted a wealthy clientele — including Steven Spielberg and Lauren Bacall — and sold upscale foods like lobster Cobb salad, caviar, fine cheeses, and local produce.
After selling the shop, Garten began to work on a cookbook, which was based on recipes from her shop and made use of local, seasonal ingredients. The book, The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook, was published in 1999. It featured simple, elegant recipes that anyone could make, and gorgeous photographs and illustrations made it easy to follow along. It was an astonishing success, and set Garten on the path to television (and many more cookbooks). It seems as if everything Garten touched has turned to gold, but it wasn’t without a lot of hard work. Read on for 10 things you didn’t know about Ina Garten.
Her Mother Discouraged Her From Cooking
According to Food Network’s biographical show Chefography, Garten expressed an interest in cooking from a young age, often offering to assist her mother in the kitchen. Instead of allowing her to help out, however, her mother told her to focus on her schoolwork.
She Met Jeffrey When She Was 15
Garten took a trip up to Dartmouth College when she was 15 and met Jeffrey Garten there. She put her education on hold after high school to be with him, and they were married in 1968, when she was 20 and Jeffrey 22.
Jeffrey Is a Leading Expert in International Trade
After a tour in Vietnam, Jeffrey Garten worked for the Nixon, Ford, and Carter administrations in several foreign policy and economic positions; was managing director for Lehman Brothers and the Blackstone Group (overseeing some of the era’s largest corporate restructurings); was Undersecretary of Commerce for International Trade under the Clinton administration; and was a dean of the Yale School of Management. He remains a professor there today, while also running a global consulting firm and serving on many corporate and philanthropic boards. That’s quite a résumé!
She Was a Budget Analyst Under Ford and Carter
Garten spent some time in the White House herself. After earning her MBA, she started as an aide before joining the Office of Management and Budget as a budget analyst, where she wrote nuclear energy budget and nuclear centrifuge policy papers for Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter.
She Turned Her Tiny Food Shop Into a 100-Employee Juggernaut
After buying The Barefoot Contessa (named after a 1954 Ava Gardner film), Garten spent the next 20 years growing the business into larger spaces, eventually settling in East Hampton. The operation was huge, with more than 100 employees. But by the mid-1990s she was burned out, so she sold the store to two employees and wrote a cookbook that sold 100,000 copies in its first year.
She Was Miserable During the Pilot’s Filming
Martha Stewart took notice of Garten’s success as an author. Stewart was trying to break into TV production, and she thought Garten would be a great cooking show host. So Stewart sent her production company to Garten’s East Hampton home (Garten thought that cooking in her home would be more authentic than a studio), where the dozen-plus crew members dirtied her carpeting, backed up her toilets, and ruined her lawn. She also found it nearly impossible to talk and cook at the same time, cut her finger badly during filming, and wasn’t able to turn out camera-ready dishes. According to From Scratch: Inside the Food Network, she sobbed in between takes and didn’t get along with the crew.
Martha Stewart Demanded That the Pilot Be Destroyed
Producer Martha Stewart didn’t like Garten’s performance in the pilot, thought the Fiestaware plates she was using were too similar to her own, and overall “seemed unhappy that another woman was going to be the star of a show produced by her own company,” according to From Scratch. She told her staff that she didn’t want to represent Ina and demanded that the pilot tapes be destroyed.
She Almost Gave Up on Television
Garten was put off from television after the terrible experience of filming the pilot, and it took nearly a year of prodding by Food Network executives for her to give it another shot. Instead of a traditional "stand and stir"-style show, the network decided to follow the format of Nigella Lawson's popular British cooking show, Nigella Bites, which allowed her to film more slowly with a much smaller crew. The format, which is now common across the Food Network lineup, involved multiple takes of each step in the process, and was much easier for Garten to master.
She Never Watches Her Show
Garten once told an interviewer that she never watches her show; once she’s done filming, she leaves it in the production company’s hands. “If I ever watched a show, I think I’d probably never do it again,” she said.
She Does as Little Media as Possible
Whereas other Food Network celebrities, like Rachael Ray, Giada De Laurentiis, and Bobby Flay, are certified “celebrity chefs,” hitting the festival circuit and signing innumerable endorsement deals, you won't see Ina on the festival circuit. When not filming, she stays at home and works on cookbooks, and has never actively sought fame, choosing instead to remain out of the limelight. That hasn't stopped Barefoot Contessa from being one of Food Network's best shows of all time, though!
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