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The beautiful love story of Ina Garten and husband Jeffrey

The beautiful love story of Ina Garten and husband Jeffrey

The beautiful love story of Ina Garten and husband Jeffrey

The beautiful love story of Ina Garten and husband Jeffrey

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  • The Barefoot Contessa host dines at her husband’s actual table every day.
  • The couple also enjoy a weekly cocktail hour at Ina’s home in Palm Springs, California.

Jeffrey and Ina Garten’s recipe for a long-lasting relationship includes comedy, mutual admiration, unending support, and a weekly cocktail hour…or two.

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For all of the farm-to-table goodies the Barefoot Contessa host and prolific cookbook author has provided with her loyal followers over the years, Jeffrey Garten—of international “Jeffrey’s going to love it” fame—gets to dine at Ina’s actual table every day.

However, it is clear that both couples bring different components to the table.

“She’s the center of my life,” Jeffrey remarked of his wife and resident bartender of almost 54 years on 60 Minutes in October, holding a newly poured red grapefruit paloma. “She’s actually the font of an enormous amount of fun. And she is the center of the home. That’s what she is to me.”

“That’s not bad,” Ida said happily, used to being supported by that degree of support.

That’s not awful at all. In fact, it’s quite tasty.

The 74-year-old has sold millions of books, entertained wannabe domestic gods and goddesses on her long-running Food Network show, and amassed a celebrity entourage.

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Everyone from Taylor Swift to Michelle Obama has paid tribute; Jennifer Garner risked a kitchen fire while making beef bourguignon from Barefoot in Paris, and Meghan Markle’s renowned “engagement chicken” was Ina’s recipe the night Prince Harry proposed.

But, thanks to appearances on Barefoot Contessa and his wife’s social media, funny, good-natured Jeffrey, 76, has become a star in his own right.

“I’ll go to an airport,” he told CBS This Morning in 2015, “and the person handling the security will just stop and say, ‘You know, you get me in real trouble. ‘Cause my wife wants me to be just like you.'”

Garten characterized her spouse as “very sweet, kind, hilarious, clever, supportive, just everything you could ever wish for.” “I mean, here we are 50 years later. And I just feel that much more about it!”

Jeffrey, a global finance expert who served as undersecretary of commerce in the Clinton administration, has been his wife’s No. 1 booster since they fell in love in the early 1960s.

According to Ina Rosenberg on the Oct. 28, 2018, episode of Sunday Sit-down With Willie Geist, she was 15 years old and visiting her brother at Dartmouth, where Jeffrey was also a student, when she first saw her future husband in the library.

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Jeffrey asked his roommate whether he recognised the girl—the Ivy League college in New Hampshire hadn’t yet gone co-ed, so she stuck out—and the roommate did.

In reality, that night, Ina had a date with him.

“After the date, Jeffrey said to his roommate, ‘Are you interested?’ ‘Oh no, I’ve known her since I was 5,'” Ina remembered what she had heard about the exchange.

“So he asked if he could write to me. And he wrote me a letter…I remember running through the house—he sent me a photograph—and I remember saying, ‘Mom, mom, this guy’s adorable!'”

Six months later, Jeffrey arrived at her family’s Connecticut home to take her out.

While she couldn’t recall what her mother Florence thought at the time, or whether her father, a surgeon, was even awake to meet him, her parents “simply adored him,” Ina said.

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Ina, on the other hand, was shocked by the second date.

Ina recounted telling the story to a rapt Drew Barrymore for the actress’ eponymous talk show on Nov. 16, thinking that because Jeffrey was in college, he probably wanted to go to a club. So she recommended one, and they went, only to be stopped outside by two bouncers who demanded to see her ID.

“I had no idea I needed fake ID to get into a bar when I was 16,” she laughed. “So many years later, I said [to Jeffrey], ‘What did you think? Why would you want to take me out again?’ He said, ‘I thought you needed taking care of.’ Which is so sweet, and he was so right.”

Ina studied economics at Syracuse University and married Jeffrey on December 22, 1968, when she was 20 years old.

They relocated to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, where she stayed while he served in Vietnam, getting her own pilot’s licence and honing her culinary and entertaining skills.

When Jeffrey left the Army, they tented out (literally, inside a tent) in France, where they couldn’t afford to eat in restaurants, so Ina would buy food in markets.

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Consider her head blown by the simple power of farm-fresh produce, which was not yet a whole genre of food in the United States.

Ina became a fan of Julia Child, the California-born amateur chef who rose to culinary fame with her famous book Mastering the Art of French Cooking and subsequent television shows (and, incidentally, had an adoring husband in Paul Child).

The Gartens returned to the United States and settled in Washington, D.C., where Jeffrey attended the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and later worked for the State Department. After completing her MBA, Ina worked as a White House adviser for four years, spanning the Ford and Carter administrations, on nuclear energy policy for the Office of Management and Budget.

The universe then began to operate in mysterious ways.

On April 4, 1978, Ina saw an ad in the New York Times for a “catering, gourmet foods, and cheese shoppe” for sale in Westhampton Beach, New York—in a section of the paper she rarely read, and on the same day the ad was published. The restaurant was called The Barefoot Contessa, after the owner’s nickname, which was inspired by the 1954 film starring Ava Gardner and Humphrey Bogart.

Ina, who was born in Brooklyn and raised in Stamford, Conn., has never gone to the Hamptons, let alone seen the film. But she connected with the name, and the chance felt just perfect for the budget analyst, who had grown disillusioned with the lack of obvious outcomes her work created after four years.

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“I just remember going, ‘Oh, s—t,'” she said after the seller called and accepted her “very low” bid. Ina laughed on PBS Newshour in 2017. “What did I do?!?”

While she had a business background, it was her first job in the culinary industry, with her previous experience limited to being a home cook. On Sunday Sitdown, Ina recalled Jeffrey giving her “‘If you love it, you’ll be incredibly good at it,’ is the best advice anyone could ever receive. Because I like it, I did it.”

In retrospect, she said, “It was incredibly brave of him to put everything we had behind it. Worked out OK.”

Ina sold the store in 1996 (she had moved it to a larger location in East Hampton by then), owing its success to the happy ambiance she created from the start, with upbeat music always playing, complimentary coffee, and plenty of treats for her clients to taste.

Her 1999 publishing debut, The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook, was a hit, thanks to a well-heeled clientele, lots of excellent buzz, and a shrewd publicist.

The Food Network initially contacted her in 2002, she said Willie, but she politely declined.

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Despite the repeated interest, she simply did not believe anyone would want to watch her on television. (“I don’t get it,” she frequently jokes about her celebrity.)

She did, however, mention that she was a fan of Nigella Bites, which was recorded at Nigella Lawson’s London home.

So, according to Ina, Food Network hired Lawson’s producer to create a show for the friendly, approachable at-home cook they believed would become their next star.

 

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That is how Barefoot Contessa was born. Ina began filming the show in her own East Hampton house (she assumed it would be over after 13 episodes) before eventually constructing the studio, office, and test kitchen facility she affectionately refers to as “the barn”—which is just a short walk across the yard.

In addition to writing 12 additional books, including Cooking for Jeffrey in 2016 and Go-To Dinners in October, Ina has added a Discovery+ show, Be My Guest (also accessible as a podcast), to her schedule, and she remains a go-to recipe source for individuals of all ages, skill levels, and celebrity tiers.

But, while Jeffrey always appears to be nearby, ready to help in the kitchen or sample his wife’s cooking on camera, he would be gone for the majority of the week, working in government, on Wall Street, and in academia as a professor and dean of Yale School of Management. (He’s also the author of several books, none of which are in the culinary area.)

So, after years of a short-distance absence making the heart grow fonder, I’ll be remaining in East Hampton starting in early 2020… The heart grew fonder yet. And all of that collaboration resulted in another great book concept.

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Ina explained on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert last month that Go-To Dinners was inspired by the cooking she did during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, when she realized that after months of whipping up three squares a day for herself and her live-in taste-tester, everyone could use some more low-maintenance meals in their repertoire.

While they passed the time with remote work and a variety of culinary efforts, with Ina going to Instagram more frequently to offer ideas for food and drink—”During a crisis, you know, cocktail hour can be nearly any hour,” she observed in an April 2020 video—the Gartens, too, were stir-crazy.

“OMG, I’m back in Paris after two and a half years in a rabbit hole!” Ina posted a photo of her husband in May, at the outset of a two-week culinary adventure. “Granted, it wasn’t a terrible rabbit hole but when you can’t safely leave home, anywhere starts to feel a little claustrophobic. It’s so good to be here and everyone is so happy! First stop, a glass of rosé and some chips at Café de Flores.”

As promised, Ina took her 3.8 million Instagram followers on a culinary journey, halting on May 11 to reflect “Jeffrey and I lived in a small orange tent on the outskirts of Paris in 1971 because we couldn’t afford a hotel room! But the bakery @poilane was on my list of places to visit (how did I find out about it?). My favourite bakery is now a block away from our flat, and I frequent it. I would not have believed it if someone had told me how things would turn out at the time. To be honest, there are still times when I don’t believe it!”

And Jeffrey has always been the guy.

On The Drew Barrymore Show, Ina stated, “He’s the real deal.” And, predictably, he’s a romantic. As their 54th wedding anniversary approaches, the cute college kid who once asked if he may write to her continues to send love letters—though he now texts them. And they generally make it to their destination.

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“Sometimes they go astray,” Ina explained, laughing heartily, “He sends them to the incorrect person.”

Which is how Ina’s publicist received a text from Jeffrey that read, “You’re going to be delicious tonight,” to which she promptly replied, “I don’t think this was meant for me!”

While it’s evident that she and Jeffrey create an excellent team, Ina has been asked why it only has two members.

“We decided not to have children,” Ina revealed in 2017 on the podcast Next Question With Katie Couric. “I respect that others do, and we will always have friends with children with whom we are close, but it was a decision I made very early.”

She admitted that it had narrowed their social circle a little because parents frequently become friends with the parents of other children, but c’est la vie. “So we never had that network link with other people,” she noted. “But, no, I never felt judged by it—perhaps others did, but I didn’t notice.”

Ina, on the other hand, stated that she thought — and continues to feel — “that I would not have been able to live the life I have. So it’s a choice, and I made that choice.”

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In reality, Ina built an empire by doing exactly what she enjoys.

“I try not to do things for money,” she told Willie Geist, explaining why her name isn’t on every culinary product under the sun—or, despite one company’s best efforts, on bags of fertiliser. (“Like, do you want me to licence your s—t?” she recalled to Eater. “What, exactly? Why would I do such a thing? “)

She also didn’t pay any care to her “brand.”

“I consider what is true for me,” Ina explained.  “You do something really well, you become known for it. A brand is like a set of emotions about something…If you do something really well that’s really important for you, one day you wake up and realize, I think I have a brand.”

She was also “very skilled at saying no,” recognizing that spreading herself too thin would be detrimental to her business and her life.

“I love what I do,” Ina stated. “I love that I walk from the house and I come to the barn, and I meet two people I love working with and we get to write cookbooks, and once in a while we film the TV show—and I get to go home and have a wonderful life with Jeffrey. Anything that pulls me off that, I just see as kind of a waste of time.”

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