The secret to her success and her idyllic life, Ina Garten said, is that she always has been willing to take leaps.
When she was young, she and her husband, Jeffrey, took a months-long trip to Europe. They lived in a tent and cooked over fires. She learned the essentials of rustic French cooking.
She landed a great job working for a government agency in the Carter White House, and did well at it, but left abruptly to buy a tiny specialty food shop in Westhampton, N.Y., on Long Island. She never had done anything like that before. The shop was called “The Barefoot Contessa,” named after a movie she never had seen, and she turned it into a success.
Someone suggested she write a cookbook. She thought that seemed like dreadfully boring and solitary work, but she gave it a shot. It became a best-seller.
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A friend asked her to appear on a cooking show. She never had done television work but agreed to film an episode. She was invited to do more, and soon had her own show, also called “The Barefoot Contessa.” It became one of the most popular shows on the Food Network. Garten was nominated for Emmy Awards for her work.
“I’ve never been afraid to jump,” Garten said in a phone interview. “A lot of times we didn’t have anything left after I took the jump. We started all over. But it has always worked out.”
She’s never had formal culinary training, but she’s become one of America’s most well-known and popular chefs.
Garten herself is as popular as her recipes. So on her current tour, which stops at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa on Nov. 2, the focus is on Garten, not on her culinary concoctions.
“It’s a conversation,” she said. “It’s not a cooking demonstration at all. I’m leaving my utensils at home.”
Called “An Evening With Ina Garten,” it features the Barefoot Contessa herself onstage with an interviewer prompting a spontaneous conversation.
“I have no idea what the questions will be,” she said. “It’s a different interviewer every time.”
No matter what line of questioning, there’s plenty of fodder in Garten’s life for a compelling evening of chat.
There are countless success stories from her first career — one that many people could only dream of — working in the White House Office of Management and Budget. She did well at it, but left it behind to follow her lifelong passion for cooking. And that led to even further success, and certainly, international fame.
But the success she’s proudest of is her marriage. She met Jeffrey Garten when just 15 years old. It was something close to love at first sight. She started going to college, but dropped out to marry him when she was 20. They have been married for 48 years.
She says he has been an inspiration in her other endeavors, including her cooking career. She develops recipes with him in mind, and counts on his feedback.
It’s called “An Evening With Ina Garten,” and it features the Barefoot Contessa herself, onstage with an interviewer in a spontaneous conversation.
“He loves it when I cook for him,” she said. “If he didn’t love it so much, it would have been a lot harder to do everything I’ve done.”
She ventured timidly into the world of writing cookbooks many years ago. She assumed it would mean years of solitude holed up in a kitchen experimenting with recipes and typing them up. Soon, she realized that cookbooks require a collaboration among the cooks, designers, photographers, editors and publishers. That discovery led her to expand her already diverse passion for food, and she has since produced a steady string of best-selling cookbooks.
Her latest, her tenth, came out in October. It’s all about her love for cooking, but also about her love of her husband.
It is titled “Cooking for Jeffrey: A Barefoot Contessa Cookbook.” It’s packed with great, innovative recipes, many rooted in rustic cooking.
But it’s more than cookbook. “Its a love letter to my husband,” Garten said.