Ina Rosenberg Garten is an American author and host of the Food Network program Barefoot Contessa, and a former staff member of the White House Office of Management and Budget. Garten had no formal training; she taught herself culinary techniques with the aid of French and New England cookbooks. Later, she relied on intuition and feedback from friends and customers to refine her recipes.
She was primarily mentored by Eli Zabar (owner of Eli’s Manhattan and Eli’s Breads) and food connoisseur Martha Stewart. Among her dishes are cœur à la crème, celery root remoulade, pear clafouti, and a simplified version of beef bourguignon. Her culinary career began with her gourmet food store, Barefoot Contessa; Garten then expanded her activities to several best-selling cookbooks, magazine columns, self-branded convenience products, and a popular Food Network television show.
On December 22, 1968, Jeffrey and Ina were married in Stamford and soon relocated to Fort Bragg, North Carolina. She began to dabble in cooking and entertaining in an effort to occupy her time; Jeffrey served a four-year military tour during the Vietnam War. She also acquired her pilot’s license. After her husband had completed his military service, the couple journeyed to Paris, France, for a four-month camping vacation; the trip sparked her love for French cuisine. During this trip, she was introduced to open-air markets, produce stands, and fresh cooking ingredients.
Upon returning to the U.S., she began to cultivate her culinary abilities by studying the volumes of Julia Child’s seminal cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. During this time, weekly dinner parties turned to tradition, and she refined her home entertaining skills when she and her husband moved to Washington, D.C., in 1972.
In Washington, Garten worked in the White House while earning an MBA at George Washington University; Jeffrey worked in the State Department, completing his graduate studies. Garten was originally employed as a low-level government aide, and climbed the political ladder to the Office of Management and Budget. Eventually she was assigned the position of budget analyst, which entailed writing the nuclear energy budget and policy papers on nuclear centrifuge plants for Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter.
Strained by the pressures of her work, Garten again turned to entertaining while also flipping homes for profit in the Dupont Circle and Kalorama neighborhoods. The profits from these sales gave Garten the means to make her next purchase, the Barefoot Contessa specialty food store.
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