Who isn’t just a little jealous of Ina Garten‘s husband?
Because for all the farm-to-table goodness the Barefoot Contessa host and prolific cookbook author has shared with her devoted fans over the years, it’s Jeffrey Garten—of international “Jeffrey’s gonna love it” fame—who gets to sit at Ina’s actual table every day.
But it’s also apparent that both spouses bring certain ingredients to the mix.
“She’s the center of my life,” Jeffrey, a freshly poured red grapefruit paloma in hand, said of his wife and resident bartender of almost 54 years on 60 Minutes in October. “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.”
Used to being bolstered by that level of support, Ida quipped contentedly, “That’s not bad.”
Not bad at all. Pretty delicious, in fact.
The 74-year-old has sold millions of books, entertained aspiring domestic gods and goddesses with her long-running Food Network show and racked up a roster of celebrity pals. Everyone from Taylor Swift to Michelle Obama has paid homage, Jennifer Garner risked a kitchen fire making beef bourguignon from Barefoot in Paris and the legendary “engagement chicken” Meghan Markle prepared the night Prince Harry proposed was Ina’s recipe.
But appearances on Barefoot Contessa and his wife’s social media have made witty, good-natured Jeffrey, 76, a star in his own right, too.
“I’ll go to an airport,” he said on 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.’”
And what is that like, exactly?
“Really sweet, kind, funny, smart, supportive, just everything you could ever dream of,” Garten described her husband. “I mean, here we are 50 years later. And I just feel that much more about it!”
Since becoming smitten at first sight in the early 1960s, Jeffrey—a global finance expert who served as undersecretary of commerce in the Clinton administration—has been his wife’s No. 1 champion.
As she recounted on the Oct. 28, 2018, episode of Sunday Sitdown With Willie Geist, Ina Rosenberg was 15 and visiting her brother at Dartmouth, where Jeffrey was also a student, when she first laid eyes on her future husband in the library. Jeffrey asked his roommate if he knew who the girl was—the Ivy League institution in New Hampshire hadn’t gone co-ed yet, so she really stood out—and the roommate did know her.
In fact, Ina had a date with him that night.
“After the date, Jeffrey said to his roommate, ‘Are you interested?’ ‘Oh no, I’ve known her since I was 5,’” Ina recalled what she’s heard of that 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 showed up at her family’s house in Connecticut to take her out.
While she didn’t remember what mom Florence thought in the moment or if dad Charles, a surgeon, was even awake to meet him, but eventually her parents “just adored him,” Ina shared.
For her part, however, Ina was surprised there was a second date.
Relaying the story Nov. 16 to a rapt Drew Barrymore for the actress’ eponymous talk show, Ina recalled thinking that since Jeffrey was in college, he probably wanted to go to a bar. So she suggested one, they went and they were stopped outside by two bouncers who wanted to see her ID.
“I had no idea I needed fake ID to get into a bar when I was 16,” she recalled with a laugh. “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 majored in economics at Syracuse University and married Jeffrey on Dec. 22, 1968, when she was 20. They moved to Fort Bragg in North Carolina, where she remained while he served in Vietnam, earning her own pilot’s license and cultivating her flair for cooking and entertaining.
When Jeffrey got out of the Army, they camped out (literally, inside a tent) in France —where, Ina told Willie Geist, they couldn’t afford to eat in restaurants so she would buy food at the markets. Consider her mind blown by the simple power of farm-fresh produce, which wasn’t yet the entire genre of cuisine it would become in the U.S. Ina became a devotee of Julia Child, the California-born amateur cook who became a culinary rock star with her classic tome Mastering the Art of French Cooking and subsequent TV shows (and, incidentally, had an adoring husband in Paul Child).
Back in the U.S., the Gartens moved to Washington, D.C., where Jeffrey attended Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and went to work for the State Department. Ina subsequently started a job as a White House aide and, after earning her MBA, spent four years, bridging the Ford and Carter administrations, working on nuclear energy policy for the Office of Management and Budget.
And then the universe really started to work in mysterious ways.
On April 4, 1978, Ina saw an ad in the New York Times about a “catering, gourmet foods and cheese shoppe” for sale in Westhampton Beach, N.Y.—in a section of the paper she never usually read, and on the very day the ad was posted. The spot was called The Barefoot Contessa, the owner’s nickname inspired by the Ava Gardner–Humphrey Bogart movie from 1954.
Ina, who was born in Brooklyn and grew up in Stamford, Conn., had never even been to the Hamptons—or seen the film, for that matter. But she connected with the name, and the opportunity just felt right for the budget analyst, who after four years had grown frustrated by the lack of visible results her work produced.
When the seller called and surprisingly accepted her “very low” offer, “I just remember going, ‘Oh, s–t,’” Ina said, laughing, on PBS Newshour in 2017. “What have I done?!”
While she had a business background, it was her first-ever career move having anything to do with food, her prior experience coming only from being a home cook. But, Ina recalled on Sunday Sitdown, Jeffrey gave her “the best advice anybody could ever get: ‘If you love it, you’ll be really good at it.’ I loved it, so I did it.”
In hindsight, she noted, “It was incredibly brave of him to put everything we had behind it. Worked out OK.”
Ina sold the store in 1996 (by then she had moved it to a larger location in East Hampton), crediting its success to the festive atmosphere she created from day one with upbeat music always playing, complimentary coffee and lots of goodies for her customers to sample. Armed with a well-heeled clientele, lots of good buzz and a savvy publicist, her 1999 publishing debut, The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook, was a hit.
Food Network first started calling her in 2002, she told Willie, but she was a firm no. Despite the persistent interest, she simply didn’t think anyone would really want to watch her on TV. (“I don’t get it,” she often cracks about her celebrity status.)
She did, however, relay that she was a fan of Nigella Bites, which British sensation Nigella Lawson filmed at her London home. So, Ina recalled, Food Network hired Lawson’s producer to create a show for the warm, accessible, at-home cook they hoped would become their next star.
Which is how Barefoot Contessa came to be. Ina first shot the show inside her own East Hampton home (she thought the whole venture would be over after 13 episodes) before eventually building the studio, office and test kitchen space she affectionately calls “the barn”—and which is just a quick walk across the lawn.
In addition to penning 12 more books—including 2016’s Cooking for Jeffrey and her latest, Go-To Dinners, published in October—Ina has added a Discovery+ show, Be My Guest (also available as a podcast), to her schedule, and she remains an every-occasion recipe source for people of all ages, skill levels and tiers of fame.
But while Jeffrey always seems to be around, readily available to assist in the kitchen or sample his wife’s cooking on camera, he would actually be gone for most of the week, having kept busy 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 a number of books, none of which can be found in the food section.)
So after years of a little not-too-long-distance absence making the heart grow fonder, staying put in East Hampton starting in early 2020… Well, the heart got fonder still. And all that togetherness led to another good idea for a book.
Go-To Dinners, Ina explained on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert last month, was inspired by the cooking she did during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, realizing after months of whipping up three squares a day for herself and her live-in taste-tester, that everyone could use some more low-maintenance meals in their repertoire.
While they passed the time with remote work and numerous culinary endeavors, Ina taking to Instagram more regularly to share recipes for food and drink—”During a crisis, you know, cocktail hour can be almost any hour,” she said in an April 2020 video—but even the Gartens got stir-crazy.
“OMG back in Paris after 2 1/2 years in a rabbit hole!” Ina captioned a photo of her spouse in May at the start of a two-week gustatory extravaganza. “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 quite the culinary tour, pausing to reminisce on May 11, “When Jeffrey and I came to Paris in 1971, we stayed in a small orange tent on the outskirts of Paris (we couldn’t afford a hotel room!) but the bakery @poilane was on my list of things to see (how did I even know about it??). Now my favorite bakery is a block from our apartment and I go there all the time. If someone had told me then how things would turn out, I simply wouldn’t have believed it. Frankly, there are still moments when I don’t believe it!”
And through it all, Jeffrey’s been the guy.
“He’s the real deal,” Ina said on The Drew Barrymore Show. And, not surprisingly, he’s a romantic. As their 54th wedding anniversary approaches, the cute college kid who once asked if he could write to her keeps sending love notes—though now he texts them. And they usually arrive at their intended destination.
“Sometimes they go astray,” Ina shared, explaining with a hearty laugh, “He sends them to the wrong person.”
Which is how Ina’s good friend and publicist accidentally ended up with a text from Jeffrey reading, “You’re going to be delicious tonight,” to which she quickly replied, “I don’t think this was meant for me!”
But while it’s clear that she and Jeffrey make up a rock-solid team, Ina has fielded questions about why it only has two members.
“We decided not to have children,” Ina said on the Next Question With Katie Couric podcast in 2017. “I really appreciate that other people do, and we will always have friends that have children that we are close to, but it was a choice I made very early.”
She acknowledged that may have limited their social circle a bit because parents often make friends with other kids’ parents, but c’est la vie. “So we never had that connection with other people that I see, that network,” she observed. “But no, I never felt judged by it—maybe people did, but I didn’t notice.”
But in her case, Ina added, she felt—and continued to feel—”that I would have never been able to have the life I’ve had. So it’s a choice, and that was the choice I made.”
In fact, Ina built an empire doing expressly what works for her.
“I try to never do things for money,” she told Willie Geist, explaining why you don’t see her name on every kitchen product under the sun—or on bags of fertilizer, despite one company’s best effort. (“Like, you want me to license your s–t?” she remembered the experience to Eater. “Like, what? Why would I do that?”)
And she didn’t give much thought to her “brand,” either.
“I think about what’s true for me,” Ina said. “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 “really good at saying no,” she noted, knowing that spreading herself too thin wouldn’t be good for her business or her life.
“I love what I do,” Ina said. “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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