Ina Garten has built an incredible career, which started with writing budgets at the White House.
With the support of husband Jeffrey, she then ran a grocery store that launched her cooking journey.
Garten has since written 13 cookbooks, and "Barefoot Contessa" has been on TV for 20 years.
But before becoming a Food Network star, Garten wrote budgets at the White House and ran a Hamptons grocery store.
Here's her incredible life story.
Ina Garten was born on February 2, 1948.
Garten was raised in Stamford, Connecticut, where her father worked as a surgeon.
The future Food Network star didn't spend much time in the kitchen during her youth. Her mother wanted her to focus on school instead, according to the Washington Post.
Garten's life would change in 1963 when she went to visit her brother at Dartmouth College, where she first met Jeffrey.
It was love at first sight for Jeffrey, who spotted Garten from the library window.
As it turned out, Jeffrey's roommate knew Garten's brother. Jeffrey sent her a letter with his photo inside, and Garten's interest was instantly piqued.
"I just remember running through the house and going, 'Mom, Mom, you've got to see this picture of this guy. He's so cute!'" Garten told People in 2018.
They had their first date just months later in New York, and Garten felt an instant connection as well.
"I have to say, I just knew he was the one," she told Today Food in 2018. "He's kind, he's smart, he's funny, and he takes very good care of me. It's wonderful."
Garten was 20 years old when she tied the knot with Jeffrey in 1968, five years after they first met.
The couple wed at Garten's parents' house in Stamford.
In 2016, Garten told Vanity Fair that her greatest regret in life was "not marrying Jeffrey sooner."
While celebrating the couple's 50th wedding anniversary in 2018, Garten said the secret to a happy marriage was quite simple.
"I think you marry someone who thinks you're just the most important thing in the world, and you think he's the most important thing in the world," she told Today Food.
But the couple had to spend their first year as husband and wife apart while Jeffrey served in the Army.
Jeffrey was only able to call Garten once during that entire year he was stationed in Thailand, but he wrote to her every day, he told People in 2018.
Garten kept every single letter, including one in which Jeffrey said he'd love to take his new wife to Paris, where "we won't have enough money for a hotel, but maybe we'll go camping," she added.
The couple went on a four-month camping trip to Paris in 1971, where Garten said she first fell in love with cooking. Now, they celebrate every anniversary in the City of Lights.
Garten and Jeffrey moved to Washington, DC, in 1972, where she earned her degree and worked her way up to the White House.
Garten helped write the nuclear energy budget during Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter's presidencies. At the same time, she was making her way through Julia Child's books — teaching herself how to cook and throwing weekly dinner parties.
Although she had a prestigious career, Garten didn't feel at home in the upper echelons of DC.
''My job in Washington was intellectually exciting and stimulating, but it wasn't me at all,'' Garten told The New York Times in 1981.
In 1978, shortly after she turned 30, Garten gave up her DC life and decided to buy a small specialty food shop called Barefoot Contessa.
''I was sitting at my desk in Washington trying to figure out what I was going to do when I grew up and I came across an ad for this business for sale in Westhampton,'' she told the Times. ''I drove up that weekend, looked it over, and said I'd take it.''
Garten's parents couldn't believe their daughter had given up the White House for a grocery store. But Jeffrey gave her his full support.
"Jeffrey said, 'If you love it, you'll be really good at it,'" Garten told the New York Times' Sam Sifton during a virtual chat for the release of her cookbook "Modern Comfort Food."
"And that's the best advice anybody ever gave me," she added.
It was a huge learning curve for Garten, who had little experience in the world of food.
"Honestly, the first month I was there I thought, 'This is the stupidest thing I've ever done in my life,'" Garten told Sifton. "I'd never been in the food business, I didn't know how to do anything. But Jeffrey said, 'If you could do it in the first week, you'd be bored in the second week."'
Garten began working 18 hours a day to turn Barefoot Contessa into a success, bringing on a chef named Anna Pump to help.
"Mom was hired to cook, but the beginning of a beautiful friendship began," Sybille van Kempen, Pump's daughter, told Insider. "Mom and Ina motivated each other. They shared ideas and supported each other's growth."
Garten credits Pump — who went on to run the popular Loaves & Fishes Foodstore in Sagaponack, New York, and died in 2015 — with teaching her "so much about cooking."
Barefoot Contessa became such a success that Garten moved it to a bigger location in East Hampton.
Garten told Sifton she got lucky that she found the store just as the specialty food business was starting to take off.
"It was really the beginning of when women were going back to work and they had jobs and families and they had enough on their plate and didn't have time to make dinner," she said. "So they were starting to buy dinner to make at home."
Garten ran the store for 18 years before she sold it to two of her employees in 1996. The store officially closed in 2003.
In 1999, Garten published her first cookbook — "The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook" — with recipes from her store.
It was those first Barefoot Contessa customers who taught Garten that "people eat differently at home than they do in restaurants," she told Sifton.
"I would put out chickens with fresh herbs and it didn't work," Garten told Sifton. "I thought, okay, I'm going to take this huge platter and put the chicken in little red cups and do it really simply — and it sold like crazy. I really learned that people want simple food."
"The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook" was a huge hit. Garten has since released a new cookbook every two years.
Garten told Sifton it takes her two years to develop the recipes and design for each book, and that she's "involved in every detail of it."
The "Barefoot Contessa" star has become beloved for her foolproof dishes that are accessible to home chefs at any skill level. And Garten credits this with the fact that she always tests out her dishes with an inexperienced cook.
"Every time I make a recipe, I watch someone else make it," she told Sifton. "And I learn so much about how someone uses the recipe. At least one person makes it, sometimes three."
Food Network soon came calling, and Garten launched the "Barefoot Contessa" show in 2001.
Garten actually turned down the Food Network multiple times before she decided to give the show a go, telling the network to "lose my number."
"For years I said no, and they kept coming back with a better offer," Garten told MSNBC host Willie Geist during a virtual author luncheon benefiting Shelter Island Public Library in September 2021. "I said, 'I'm not negotiating, I just don't think I can do this.'"
Executives at the network were shocked by her initial refusal.
"They said, 'People send us hams to even get an appointment to try and get a show,'" Garten told Geist with a laugh.
But Garten said it's been incredible to look back on her two decades in television.
"Twenty years, it's amazing," she added. "I'm really delighted, I just can't understand it."
Garten was named one of Time Magazine's 100 most influential people in the world in 2015, and her tribute was penned by none other than Taylor Swift.
"As soon as I started watching Ina's show, I realized why so many people adore her," Swift wrote. "Her goal is to make things easier for us. Fans love her warmth and generosity."
"She shows us how to create memories that we'll treasure for years to come. For that, we will always cherish the merry and magnificent Ina Garten," she continued.
And in 2016, Garten returned to the White House — this time as Michelle Obama's guest.
"When Mrs. Obama said she liked my work, that was, like, 'Really?,'" Garten recalled. "She's just somebody I admire enormously. She took on a role she never expected to, and she did it brilliantly."
Garten has since found a whole new legion of fans after she became a quarantine hero with the help of a massive cosmopolitan.
The "Barefoot Contessa" star became an internet sensation in April 2020 when she filmed herself making a huge drink at 9 a.m., telling her fans that it's "always cocktail hour in a crisis!"
Garten told Sifton that she was "adding like 100,000 people a week on Instagram" after the clip took off.
"It was insane!" she said. "It was completely insane!"
Garten pivoted her Instagram content to share easy pantry-friendly recipes that her fans could make while they were stuck in various lockdowns. Now, she has over three million followers.
Garten released her cookbook, "Modern Comfort Food," in October 2020.
Garten decided to make comfort food the theme of her 2020 cookbook because she knew it'd be coming out during an election year.
"Two years ago I thought, there's going to be an election a month after this book comes out," Garten told Sifton. "And everyone, no matter who you're voting for, is going to be stressed out."
"I had no idea the layers of stress we would be dealing with now," she added, referring to the pandemic. "Either I'm a genius or I'm really lucky, and I'm sure it's the latter. It was the right thing for the right time."
Garten became a pandemic hero once again in January 2022 when she advised Reese Witherspoon and her followers to "drink more large cosmos."
The "Barefoot Contessa" star delighted fans in January 2022 when she commented on Witherspoon's Instagram video asking followers to share habits that have improved their daily life.
While Witherspoon's habits include starting the day with a big glass of water and being in bed by 10 p.m. ("no late-night TV binges"), Garten was happy to admit that her daily habits are very different and "easier to follow."
Garten then revealed that her daily habits include drinking "more large cosmos," staying up late to watch TV, and "playing Sudoku instead of reading a good book."
"In a pandemic, I do what I can," she continued, adding some heart emojis at the end.
Garten's comment definitely caught people's attention, receiving more than 4,000 likes and 200 comments — many of which praised her for being an "icon" and an "idol."
"Ina Garten that is real and I love it," one fan wrote.
The pandemic served as inspiration for Garten's most recent cookbook, "Go-To Dinners," which focuses on easy recipes that take little prep or stress.
"The pandemic has had a huge impact on what I think of as dinner — and what I look for in a 'go-to' recipe," Garten writes in the introduction of her cookbook. "When I planned a party before the pandemic, it was always a multicourse extravaganza. But then the pandemic happened and everything seemed like so much work."
"I started making simple dinners for Jeffrey and me," she continues. "They were delicious, satisfying, and everything we needed and wanted for dinner. I began to question why I had been so rigid about what constituted dinner before. If I love eating this way, wouldn't my friends like it too?"
Garten is releasing her memoir this year.
In typical laid-back "Barefoot Contessa" fashion, Garten revealed the release date of her memoir without a big announcement. She just put the date right there on her Instagram bio.
Garten's memoir, which is being published by Celadon Books, will be released on October 1, 2024.
"By finding a way to do what I love for a living — cooking — I've been fortunate enough to build a career that has not only been incredibly rewarding, but has brought people together through the power of home cooking," Garten said in a statement released by Celadon. "I hope my book will inspire readers to find their own unique story."
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