Who is Ina Garten?
Ina Garten is a well-known American cookery book author and Emmy award winning host of Food Networks’ current oldest show Barefoot Contessa which began in 2002 and has aired 27 seasons till 2020. Ina began her career working for the White House, writing the nuclear energy budget and policy papers. Though she found the career intellectually stimulating initially, eventually she lost her interest in it and purchased a small specialty food store – Barefoot Contessa. She spent eighteen years making the store extremely successful before selling it off and picking up the pen to write her first cookbook. A number of other cookbooks and magazine columns followed. Meanwhile her Food Network television show, too, made its debut and became a hit. She also sells a range of product, from cooking ingredients to equipment and storage containers. Ina has never been to any cookery school or worked in a restaurant and is completely self-taught. She is known for her simple approach to cooking and effortless take on entertainment. Some of her best known recipes include Skillet-Roasted Lemon Chicken, Beatty’s Chocolate Cake, Mac and Cheese, Beef Bourguignon, Balsamic-Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Lemon Bars.
Childhood & Early Life
Ina Rosenberg was born on 2nd February 1948 in Brooklyn, New York in a Jewish family as one of the two children of Charles and Florence Rosenberg. Her father was a surgeon specializing in otolaryngology while her mother was a dietitian.
The family resided in Stamford, Connecticut where she grew up. Her mother encouraged her to focus more on her studies.
She performed well in her studies, particularly in science. This played a pivotal role in her later culinary career wherein all her ingredients are measured properly like scientific equation.
She attended Rippowam High school and then joined Syracuse University. However, she then abandoned her studies to get married to Jeffrey Garten.
While her husband went away on a four-year military tour during the Vietnam War, Ina Garten engaged herself with cooking and even took flying lessons and earned herself a pilot licence.
Upon his return, the couple set out on a four-month camping vacation to France. It was during this time that she developed an interest in French cuisine.
When they returned, she began to hone her cooking skills by reading Mastering the Art of French Cooking, a two volume French cookbook authored by Julia Child.
They moved to Washington in 1972 where weekly dinner parties at her home became quite common and helped her enhance her cooking and hosting skills.
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In Washington, Ina Rosenberg pursued her MBA from Washington University and joined the White House in 1974 as a low-level government aide. Later, she became budget analyst responsible for writing the nuclear energy budget. She worked in Presidents Ford and Carter’s administration. However, dissatisfied with her job, she quit in 1978.
Meanwhile, along with her husband, she got involved in flipping homes in Washington DC’s expensive neighbourhood and gathered some fund.
A New York Times advertisement for the sale of a specialty food store in West Hampton got her intrigued and together with her husband, she drove to Long Island to check it out. Soon, she bought the store which was named after the 1954 movie, The Barefoot Contessa, starring Ava Gardner and Humphrey Bogart. The funds she had gathered earlier were used for the purchase made in 1978.
She had absolutely no experience of running a business or dealing with employees; however, she learnt a lot from the store’s previous owner Diana Stratta and used the knowledge to grow her business.
Under her leadership, Barefoot Contessa, over the next eighteen years, grew from a 400 square feet store to a 3,000-sq.-ft. food emporium with 20 cooks and bakers as well as 25 more employees. The store moved its location from West to East Hampton.
The store sold breads, pastries, salads, dinners as well as all kinds of cheeses, smoked fish, caviar, and specialty groceries. Ina Garten, initially cooked herself but hired people as the business became bigger and demand increased.
In 1996, she took another major decision and sold the store (though she remained the owner of the building itself) to her employees and took a short break. The store ultimately closed down in 2004 after a negotiation between Garten and the new owners failed to materialise.
Meanwhile, she built herself an office above the store and began writing her first cookbook – The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook – which eventually came out in 1999 and became a best seller. In the book, she shares with the readers, the recipes that turned her store into such a big success.
She also began offering her coffees and few other products for sale through her website Barefoot Contessa.
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A couple of more cookbooks followed – Barefoot Contessa Parties! (2001) and Barefoot Contessa Family Style (2002) – and yet again became huge success. The former, like the previous cookbook, was yet again nominated for James Beard Awards in the Entertaining & Special Occasion Cookbooks category.
On television, Ina Garten was first seen on Martha Stewart's show – From Martha's Kitchen: Ina Garten's Kitchen Clambake – in the year 2000.
After the success of her cookbooks, Food Network offered her to host her own cookery show which she rejected a number of times before finally agreeing. This led to her show Barefoot Contessa beginning in 2002.
The show, in which she shares recipes for parties and picnics and tips on hosting and decorating, became immensely successful and continues till date.
In 2006, together with her business partner, Frank Newbold, she launched Barefoot Contessa Pantry in collaboration with Stonewall Kitchen. The pantry sold packaged cake mixes, marinades, sauces, and preserves created by Garten herself.
Barefoot Contessa todays offers a range of products including cooking ingredients, cookware, storage containers, cookbooks and cooking equipment. These can be purchased from Amazon as well as other platforms like Sur La Table, Cassandra's Kitchen and Williams and Sonoma.
Ina continued to publish more cookbooks which were all received well. These include Barefoot in Paris (2004), Barefoot Contessa at Home (2006), Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics (2008), Barefoot Contessa How Easy Is That? (2010) Barefoot Contessa Foolproof (2012), Make It Ahead (2014), Cooking for Jeffrey (2016), Cook Like a Pro (2018) and her latest Modern Comfort Food (2020).
Apart from writing cookbooks, she has also penned columns for magazines like Martha Stewart Living, O, The Oprah Magazine and House Beautiful. She currently authors a monthly column for Food Network Magazine.
Awards & Achievements
Ina Garten has thrice been the recipient of Daytime Emmy Awards. She bagged the 2009 and 2010 Outstanding Lifestyle/Culinary Host for her show Barefoot Contessa. In 2017, she picked up Outstanding Culinary Host award for Barefoot Contessa: Back to Basics.
She has won the James Beard Foundation’s Outstanding Personality/Host award for two years in succession – 2014 and 2015 for her hit show – Barefoot Contessa: Back to Basics.
Family & Personal Life
In 1963, at the age of fifteen, Ina Garten met her husband Jeffrey Garten while paying a visit to her brother at Dartmouth College. Five years later, the couple married. They decided not to have children.
Jeffrey Garten is a professor at the Yale School of Management and frequently makes an appearance on his wife’s show.
She lives in her house in East Hampton and has a barn next to it which serves as her office, test kitchen and TV studio where her show is shot.