Ina Garten, aka The Barefoot Contessa, is the picture of effortless elegance. Watching her show, her home always looks warm and inviting. She lives life to the fullest, and it’s hard to tell which she loves more… cooking or her husband Jeffrey.
However, her life has not always been decadent meals and impressive dinner parties. She started out as an unfulfilled government worker before making the leap to the food business. She worked hard to teach herself new cooking skills and grow her following. She still doesn’t make everything perfectly and struggles with one dessert in particular. Yes, there is so much more to learn about beloved cook Ina Garten.
She’s a self-proclaimed couch potato
If Ina Garten had not taken a chance on herself and thrown herself into the world of food, you would most likely find her on her couch watching television. "I worry that if I don’t challenge myself professionally I’ll lie on the sofa and watch old episodes of Law & Order all day," Garten told Vanity Fair. Garten does not like this quality in herself (or in anyone else), so she is constantly pushing herself and trying new things.
She will never use cilantro
There’s something to be said for trying expand your tastes, but Garten will never push herself to like cilantro, because it’s just not going to happen. When asked what things in life she can’t stand, the barefoot contessa didn’t hesitate. "Passive-aggressive people and cilantro," she told Vanity Fair.
Garten even repeated her hatred for this herb in another interview. When asked what she refuses to cook, she stuck to her answer. "Cilantro. I just won’t go near it," Garten told Time. "And I’m not big on things with eyeballs. And foam." Can’t fault her there.
She hates to be alone
Some people would love nothing more than a night to themselves. However, it turns out that is Ina Garten’s worst nightmare. When asked what misery looks like to her, she responded, "An evening home alone with nothing to do." Agree to disagree Ina!
Just to get a sense of how much she hates being alone, she even said she does not plan to die alone. Her vision for death looks like, "I don’t care as long as Jeffrey and I go together and we end up in a big suite with a view of the ocean."
She used to work in nuclear energy
When watching Ina Garten cook on Food Network, it’s easy to assume that she’s always done this. It seems to come so naturally to her, but there was a time when she was as far from the food industry as you can get. "I was working at OMB, Office of Management and Budget," she told PBS. "Yes, for Ford and Carter. And I worked on nuclear energy policy. How’s that for precedent for the food business?"
So how did she make the switch? It turns out Garten always knew deep down that she was meant to work with food. "And by the late ’70s, I thought, I have been working here for four years, and nothing has happened. And I just didn’t feel like I had any impact on anything," she shared. "And I hit 30, and I thought, I want to do what I want to do. And I thought, I want to be in the food business."
She started out with her own store
Ina Garten essentially fell into the food business when a newspaper ad changed her life. She saw an ad for a specialty food store in the Hamptons for sale one day, and she couldn’t stop thinking about it. "I went home and I told Jeffrey about it, and he said, pick something you love to do. If you love doing it, you will be really good at it," she told PBS. "And so I made her a very low offer, the woman who was selling it, thinking, well, we will come back. We will negotiate. We drove back to Washington."
Even though Garten may have made this decision on a whim, the store owner took her very seriously. "I was in my office the next day and the phone rang. And she said, thank you very much. I accept your offer," Garten shared. "And I just remember going, oh (EXPLETIVE DELETED). That was it. Two months later, I was behind the counter of a specialty foods store, trying to figure it out."
She came from humble beginnings
Owning a specialty cooking store in the fabulous Hamptons certainly doesn’t sound like humble beginnings, but you didn’t see the store. "It was 400 square feet," Garten told NPR. "It was so small that you couldn’t get — the stove didn’t fit into the kitchen, so it was actually in the store. If you wanted to put something in the oven you had to go into the store."
However, for Garten, size didn’t matter. She loved that little store and took pride in growing it. "And it was great. I mean, it was — I always wanted it to feel like a party, and it did," she shared. "We had great music and we had samples of cookies out, and everybody had a great time. They would come in just to see what was going on."
She used to flip houses
Before she broke into cooking, Garten made some extra cash flipping houses in Washington D.C. While her side hustle was lucrative, it was also a difficult one — but not for the reasons you might think. When she would try to get a loan from the bank, she was often given a hard time for being a woman. "I went to the bank to take out a loan and they said ‘Well we can’t count your salary. We can only count Jeffrey’s,’" she told People. "They said, ‘Well you’re just going to get pregnant and quit.’"
Instead of being discouraged, Garten took matters into her own hands. "I remember going home and tearing up all the credit cards in Jeffrey’s name and taking out credit cards in my name," she said. Thankfully, things have changed since then.
She is completely self-taught
If you’ve always dreamed of hosting your own cooking show, you don’t need to spend years in culinary school. Ina Garten is completely self-taught, and it works for her.
"I’d never worked in a store. I never worked in a restaurant. I mean, I cooked at home, but that’s not really the same thing," she told PBS. "I taught myself how to cook when I worked in Washington using Julia Child’s cookbooks." It’s only fitting that this famous cookbook author taught herself to cook using the cookbooks of another famous self-taught cook.
She doesn’t care about fame
She’s one of the most beloved figures in the cooking world, but Garten couldn’t care less about being famous. "I think when you’re in your 20s or 30s you think, ‘If only I was famous I’d be happy,’" she told People. "That’s an illusion. I don’t think being famous ever makes anyone happy."
What really makes Garten proud is knowing that the work she does brings other people joy. "But I think at this point in my life I love that people enjoy my work," she said. "Cookbooks give people the tools to do something for themselves, and it makes them feel good. So I love that. I love when people stop me and say ‘I made your tomato tart, and everybody loved it.’"
She gets nervous about entertaining
Ina Garten may be a cooking pro, but she still gets nervous when it comes to preparing for a party. "I’m the most anxious cook," she told People. "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 loves when fans approach her
Next time you’re in a fabulous restaurant and see Ina Garten at the next table, don’t hesitate. She would love for you to come say hello, because she loves connecting with her fans in real life. "Oh, they’re all so lovely. They all just want to say I taught them how to cook, which makes me really happy," Garten told Time. "Or people walk by and lean in and say, ‘I love you.’ Who wouldn’t like that?"
One of the things Garten loves most about talking with her fans is seeing the range of diversity. Food brings us all together, and she certainly doesn’t have a type when it comes to followers. "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 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 still can’t make a perfect Boston cream pie
Before you start putting Garten on a cooking pedestal, because she seems too perfect, remember even she still struggles with some dishes. She has yet to perfect her Boston cream pie. "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. Perhaps one of the reasons why she is so successful is because she’s kept trying to get it right, even after all this time.
You’ll never guess who she’d invite to her dinner party
How amazing would it be to attend one of Ina Garten’s perfect dinner parties? You know the food would be incredible, but the company would be even better. When asked who she would invite to her ultimate dream dinner party, the barefoot contessa did not disappoint.
"I only do dinner parties for six, so can I do six? Let’s see … I’ll have an all-girls dinner party, how ’bout that? Julia Child, Mrs. Obama, Taylor Swift, me … I have to invite my husband Jeffrey, right? And my best friend, Barbara Liberman," Garten told Time. "We’ll have a really good time."
She never wanted children
In many ways, Garten seems like the ultimate mom. She’s warm and caring, while preparing the most comforting dinners after a long day. However, that was just never her calling. "We decided not to have children," she told Katie Couric on her podcast via Today. "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 (with children)."
Garten explained that she always felt comfortable with this decision and never worried about others judging her for it. "I never felt that people did," said Garten. "I think the one thing that we miss (out on) is a lot of people’s friends are the parents of their kids’ friends. So we never had that connection with other people that I see … that network. But no, I never felt judged by it. Maybe people did, but I didn’t notice."
She can make your boyfriend pop the question
Now if babies are on your wishlist, and you’ve been waiting to get married so you can get started, Garten has you covered. Legend has it that her roast chicken recipe comes with an engagement ring.
"I make roast chicken, and that is the simplest thing in the world to make," she told NPR. "And I met some girls that worked at Glamour magazine, and they said, we call it engagement chicken because every time somebody in the office makes it for their boyfriend they’re engaged within 24 hours." Where are my keys? Time to get to the grocery store.
She may be Taylor Swift’s next squad member
Have you been wondering just where Taylor Swift has been hiding out lately? Well, it may be in Ina Garten’s kitchen. The two actually hit it off when they met. "Well, I’m not exactly in her [Swift’s] posse. But I spent some — she came for a photo shoot and we made a pavlova together, which was wonderful," she told NPR. "She just dove right in. She really enjoys good food."
Garten even praised Swift’s cooking skills. "She’s a very good cook, yeah," Garten shared. "She loves to cook." Now that is an episode of her show that I would love to see.
She eats the same breakfast everyday
With all of her published cookbooks, you would think Garten is always trying new dishes and experimenting in the kitchen. However, she sticks with the same breakfast each and every day. "Same thing I always have for breakfast every day: oatmeal and coffee," she told editor-in-chief of the Munchies podcast Helen Hollyman via The Kitchn. "I use McCANN’s quick-cooking oatmeal, not instant, quick-cooking, and I make it in the microwave. And that’s breakfast! And really good coffee."
Garten prefers her really good coffee with a little milk. She’s also particular about how it’s made. "Either drip or I have an espresso. If I’m really dragging in the morning, I’ll make myself a cappuccino," she shared.
Her goal is to make learning to cook simple
The fact that Garten is a self-taught cook means that there is hope for the rest of us. Her goal with her cookbooks is to help other people learn how to cook with ease. She told PBS about her decision to share her knowledge with others.
"I think that I had a very clear vision when I started writing cookbooks what I wanted it to be, and that you would open the book, that you would look at the photograph and go, that looks delicious," she said. "And then you would look at the recipe and say, I can actually make that and I can make it with ingredients I can find in the grocery store."
She’s helped redefine feminism
Ina Garten proves that feminism is about doing what you want to do. When asked by The Washington Post whether cooking for your husband is anti-feminist, Garten’s reply showed that she is far from oppressed.
"There was a generation of women who wanted to be like men — to act like men and have jobs like men," she said. "I never did; I wanted to act like me. I love cooking, I love feminine pursuits. I just want to do them in my own way." Garten’s brand of feminism means having the best of both worlds. "The best example I can give to other women is to be independent and have a good business and be able to take care of yourself," she said. "It’s one of the great joys of my life to take care of my husband, and he takes care of me, too."
She went to school with some pretty famous people
There must be something in the water at Garten’s old high school, because it’s turned out some pretty legendary alumni. Her classmates at Rippowam High school include Pulitzer winner James Lapine and baseball pro Bobby Valentine.
"[Valentine] was a hero in high school," Garten told NPR. "Total hero. When he called me up I was like, oh, my God. I was like a high school girl with heart palpitations. And I was like — I think I was 65 when he called me."