#RespectYourElders: Ina Garten, 70, is a chef, author and television personality best known for her Emmy-winning Food Network show and cookbooks of the same name, “The Barefoot Contessa.”
When Garten took her first job as a White House government aide, she never dreamed she would someday be the celebrated chef she is today. While she enjoyed making the occasional meal for family and friends, she didn’t expect her hobby to ever turn into something lucrative. Instead, Garten focused on her career at the White House, eventually writing the nuclear energy budget under Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter.
“By the late ’70s, I thought, I have been working here for four years, and nothing has happened,” Garten said in a PBS News Hour interview. “And I just didn’t feel like I had any impact on anything. 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.”
One day while working in the White House, Garten was flipping through the newspaper and noticed a storefront called the Barefoot Contessa for sale in Westhampton Beach. On a whim, with no culinary experience or familiarity with the area, Garten decided to quit her desk job, move to New York and open a specialty food store.
“I remember after the first week in I said to [my husband], ‘This is the stupidest thing I’ve ever done,'” Garten said in an interview with Katie Couric. “I will never, ever figure out how to run this business.”
But, Garten not only figured it out, she excelled.
Soon after opening, Garten’s shop became a sensation in the area. A few years later, the store’s popularity led to the opening of a larger location in East Hampton. The support she received from her regular customers inspired her to publish her first cookbook in 1999, followed by multiple subsequent editions. Her books focused on the “everyday chef” and included simple ingredients people could find at their neighborhood grocery stores.
“When I first started writing cookbooks, I remember thinking to myself, what makes me think I can write a cookbook?” Garten told PBS. “There are these great chefs who are really trained. And, as I started, I realized, actually, what is my lack is actually exactly right, because I can connect with [other amateur chefs] — cooking’s hard for me.”
Garten’s cookbooks became national bestsellers, earning the notice of Food Network executives who approached her to host her own show. After saying no repeatedly, Garten finally agreed to sign onto “The Barefoot Contessa” for one season. The rest is history.
Today, Garten has filmed 24 seasons of “The Barefoot Contessa” and a number of other specials on the Food Network. Garten has no plans to leave the Food Network and knows her legacy will be that she was able to help people from all walks of life cook great, simple meals.
“I was walking up Madison Avenue, and there was a woman in a big fur coat,” Garten told PBS. And she said, ‘Oh, darling, love your cookbooks…’About a half-a-block later, a truck driver pulled over and said, ‘Hey, baby, love your show.’ And I thought, that’s food.”