Ina Garten Was ‘Shocked’ by Husband Jeffrey’s Harsh Advice Early in Their Marriage But It Guided Her to Become the Barefoot Contessa

Ina Garten’s husband Jeffrey has always been her biggest fan. Garten shared how Jeffrey, early in their marriage, said something that was the push she needed to get the ball rolling on her career as the Barefoot Contessa.

Ina Garten and Jeffrey Garten smile as they pose for a photograph at the Ailey American Dance Theater Opening Night Gala in 2012
Ina Garten and Jeffrey Garten | Jim Spellman/WireImage

Ina Garten reflects on how an unfulfilling White House job prompted her to look for a new career

Garten credits her husband Jeffrey with encouraging her to pursue a career that ended up taking off in a big way. Garten admits she was “shocked” by what he told her but it was just the push she needed to take action.

During an Oct. 25 appearance on the Today show, Garten discussed how she got involved in owning a specialty food store and went on to have a cooking show and cookbooks.

Garten worked in the White House and found her job unfulfilling. It wasn’t even on her radar to buy a small store in Westhampton Beach, New York and launch the Barefoot Contessa empire.

“It’s that moment that everything changes and it was incremental,” she explained. “I didn’t go from here to the Today show, I worked really hard. I built the business, I learned about cooking, I learned about writing cookbooks, I learned about doing a TV show. It was really extraordinary.”

Of her White House job, Garten said she “loved science,” adding, “I also think cooking is science.”

Ina Garten’s husband Jeffrey played a huge role in her future as the ‘Barefoot Contessa’

Garten discussed how she eventually leaned into a new career after following a path that wasn’t a great fit.

“I think in the ‘70s, women didn’t have role models because their mothers didn’t work and women didn’t work that much,” the Food Network host explained. “So we all wanted to grow up to be our husbands or our fathers. And Jeffrey worked in the State Department so I thought that’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to grow up and be Jeffrey.”

She continued, “And then when I hit 30, I thought, ‘I want to make things. I’m not a policy person, Jeffrey is.’”

When host Hoda Kotb asked, “Did your parents guide you? Were they saying to you, ‘Do something practical’ … did they try to guide you down that road?’” Garten admitted, “I don’t think they thought I would do anything.”

She continued, “It was Jeffrey that guided me. He said to me at some point when we had been married for a very short time, he said to me, ‘You need to do something with your life. If you don’t, you won’t be happy.’”

Garten admitted, “And I remember being shocked. I say he’s the first feminist I ever met. He saw something or believed in me and really just said, ‘Figure it out yourself, but you need to do something.'”

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Garten says he doesn’t ‘have any goals’

Kotb asked Garten, “Do you still marvel … did this happen? Is this real?” 

The Barefoot Contessa star admitted, “I just don’t believe it.”

According to Garten, she hasn’t achieved her level of success with any concrete goals. “I never made a decision to go somewhere, I just made a decision to do what I’m doing today as well as I can possibly do it and just see where it leads,” she explained. “So I don’t have any goals. It just happens!”