Ina Garten’s Husband Jeffrey Was Positive Her First Appearance on TV Would Be a Complete Disaster

Over the past 20 years, Ina Garten has built her Barefoot Contessa food empire around her best-selling cookbooks and her Food Network TV series. But both Ina and her husband Jeffrey admit that they never saw it coming. In fact, Jeffrey was positive that his wife’s first TV appearance would be a “complete disaster.”

Ina Garten Jeffrey Garten
Jeffrey and Ina Garten | Jim Spellman/WireImage

Ina Garten worked for the federal government during the Ford and Carter administrations

Garten is arguably the most famous TV chef working today, and her popularity has skyrocketed during the pandemic. It might be difficult for people to imagine her doing anything outside of the kitchen, but Garten is not a trained chef. In fact, she had an entirely different career before trying her luck in the food industry.

During a 2017 appearance on the PBS NewsHour, Garten explained that she worked as a budget analyst for the Office of Management and Budget in the 1970s during the Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter administrations. However, after four years of crunching numbers, she felt like she wasn’t achieving anything or making a difference.

When she hit her 30s, Ina decided to make a career change and pursue something she loved. After seeing a classified ad in the newspaper that featured a specialty food store for sale in the Hamptons, Garten decided to make a lowball offer.

She expected some back-and-forth negotiations, but the owner accepted her first offer. Garten admits she immediately thought to herself “what have I done?”

The Barefoot Contessa’s first TV appearance was on ‘The Today Show’ in 1999

The specialty food store that Garten purchased already had the name The Barefoot Contessa because that was the nickname of the previous owner. But Garten took over the mantle and turned the shop into a massive success for more than two decades.

In the late 1990s, Garten decided to sell the store and transition into writing cookbooks. But she admits, she’s never had any formal training. Instead, she taught herself how to cook by following Julia Child’s cookbooks when she worked in Washington DC. and throwing massive dinner parties.

Garten’s relatable approach to food in The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook made her a big hit, and she booked her first TV appearance on The Today Show.

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As The Food Network notes, Jeffrey Garten was watching the show in his hotel room while Ina waited backstage. Before Ina went on the air with Matt Lauer, Jeffrey watched a performance from disco legend Donna Summer at Rockefeller Center for Today’s summer concert series.

It was an unbelievable performance, and Jeffrey admits he thought, “Oh my gosh, Ina’s going to follow this?” He says that he was “heartbroken for her.”

Ina Garten’s cookbooks are inspired by her life with Jeffrey

Jeffrey says that he shouldn’t have been worried because Ina came out and “won everyone over, instantly.” He says that everyone quickly forgot that Donna Summer was even there, and Ina’s first TV appearance was simply “unbelievable.”

After the success of her first book, Ina says that The Food Network kept asking her repeatedly to do a series. However, she was reluctant and turned them down numerous times. But they kept asking, and finally she agreed to do 13 episodes. Ina says she thought after doing those episodes, that would be the end of it.

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But 20 years later, Ina is a Food Network staple and a social media star thanks to her easy, delicious recipes. She just released her 12th cookbook, Modern Comfort Food, and it’s all been inspired by her life with Jeffrey. The Barefoot Contessa star even dedicated one of her books to him and titled it Cooking for Jeffrey.

“She has natural talent, but it’s backed by so much effort and so much focus,” Jeffrey says. “When she had the store, she’d work until midnight all the time. The discipline of her recipe testing and how seriously she takes it — she doesn’t settle for anything but the best. She’s like a runner who collapses at the finish line even though she was ahead the whole race.”

Garten’s Modern Comfort Food is currently available in bookstores.