Celebrity Then And Now
Posted by Jake Frost
Celebrity Then And Now
Publication: Stanton Daily. Posted by Jake Frost
Author and Host of Barefoot Contessa on the Food Network
Currently Known For:
Television Host, Author and Former Staff Member of the White House Office of Management and Budget
1999 - Present
February 2, 1948
“Every household needs somebody who cooks… and somebody who really appreciates it!” Long before she ever dreamed of making a career out of cooking, Ina Garten settled for hosting weekly dinner parties at her home in Washington, D.C. where she spent her days working at the White House as a staff member of the Office of Management and Budget. Using her passion for entertaining and her talent for flipping houses to relieve the stresses of her job, it wasn’t long before Garten bid farewell to the White House and opened a 400-square-foot specialty food store called Barefoot Contessa in Westhampton Beach, New York in 1978. With Garten eventually turning her attention from the store to publishing and even her own series on the Food Network, let’s take a look at the 69-year-old author, host and former White House employee who found even bigger fame beyond 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
One of two children born to a Jewish family, Ina Rosenberg came into this world on February 2, 1948 in Brooklyn, New York. She was raised in Stamford, Connecticut where her parents encouraged her to focus on her studies as she showed great promise in her science classes despite often finding herself drawn to helping her mother in the kitchen. With her mother constantly pushing her back to her room to focus on her homework, Ina’s passion for the culinary arts never faltered as she graduated from high school and enrolled at Syracuse University where she postponed graduation to marry her boyfriend, Jeffrey Garten, whom Ina met when she was 15 years old while visiting her brother at Dartmouth College.
Marrying on December 22, 1968, Ina and Jeffrey settled down in North Carolina where Jeffrey was stationed at Fort Bragg. With little else to do, Ina took up cooking as a hobby and started entertaining other military families while also earning her private pilot’s license. After Jeffrey completed his four-year military tour in the Vietnam War, the couple traveled to Paris, France where they spent the next four months backpacking and camping throughout the French countryside as Ina’s passion for French cuisine blossomed. Learning everything she could about fresh ingredients, open markets and produce stands, Ina returned to the United States overwhelmed with passion as she studied every page of Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking.
Not yet confident enough to build her career in the culinary arts, Ina perfected her talents by hosting weekly dinner parties before she and Jeffrey moved to Washington, D.C. in 1972 where she accepted a job at the White House and enrolled at George Washington University to pursue her Master’s in Business Administration. She quickly worked her way up in the White House and went from a government aide to working on the staff of the Office of Management and Budget. However, Ina was still unsatisfied with her career and channeled the stress from her job into her passion for entertaining, once again starting her weekly dinner party tradition. She also ventured into flipping houses in areas like Dupont Circle and Kalorama, which turned a big enough profit that she made a rash decision on a trip to New York when she bought an old storefront in Westhampton Beach known as Barefoot Contessa.
Deciding to keep the name, Ina quit her job at the White House and transformed the 400-square-foot building into a specialty food store that was so popular in the area that it outgrew the location within the year. Moving across Main Street to a larger property and eventually outgrowing that building as well, Barefoot Contessa became a staple in the area and boasted over 3,000 square feet of space offering locally grown produce, lobster cobb salads, and imported cheeses. After months of doing all the cooking for the store, she hired local chefs to help as the business blossomed with celebrities like Lauren Bacall and Steven Spielberg often stopping by for their favorite dishes.
With Barefoot Contessa well established in the late 1990s, Ina sold the store to a couple of her employees in 1996 but retained ownership of the building as she spent the next six months on sabbatical. Unsure of her next move, she built offices above the store and toyed with ideas for other business ventures while running the Barefoot Contessa website where she saw site visits skyrocket after offering her unique coffees and other items for purchase online. After the brick and mortar store closed in 2004 when a competitor moved in, Ina’s online presence was well known as the online store continued to serve customers while Ina released her first of many cookbooks, The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook.
By the time her store closed, Ina was already working on another venture after joining her longtime friend and mentor, Martha Stewart, on The Martha Stewart Show. The Food Network was thoroughly impressed with Ina’s approach to the culinary arts and offered Ina her own television program, which she initially declined several times before accepting a 13-show season of Barefoot Contessa. The show debuted in 2002 and was met with high praise as Ina was dubbed the next Martha Stewart, which would later prove true as Stewart spent six months in jail in 2004. In 2005, Barefoot Contessa received a Daytime Emmy Award nomination for Best Service Show and was nominated again in 2009 for Best Culinary Program as Ina herself was nominated for Best Culinary Host, which she won.
With Ina’s growing fame, more and more opportunities came her way as she signed longer contracts with the Food Network and authored best sellers like Barefoot in Paris, Barefoot Contessa at Home: Everyday Recipes You’ll Make Over and Over Again, Make It Ahead: A Barefoot Contessa Cookbook and Cooking for Jeffrey: A Barefoot Contessa Cookbook. She also contributed to The Oprah Magazine, launched her Facebook blog, and debuted her line of pantry products including cake mixes, marinades, sauces and more.
Amid her incredible good fortune in the spotlight, Ina has remained humble over the years despite both her growing fame and the harsh criticism that comes from being in the public eye. Still overwhelmed with gratitude when fans approach her, Garten says, “They all just want to say I taught them how to cook, which makes me really happy. Or people walk by and lean in and say, ‘I love you.’ Who wouldn’t like that? 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.’” Fortunately, Ina has helped make it that way!