If you’ve ever heard of Ina Garten, it’s most likely from her cooking show, “Barefoot Contessa.” Available and created on Food Network, she acts as both host and head chef in this kitchen. As a child, I used to watch the show more for her as a character than for actual educational purposes. Wholesome and operating under the belief that making food for yourself and others can be a huge source of joy, Ina Garten was someone I looked up to as both a chef and a person.
However, I recently became aware that although she may be known for constantly smiling and putting an almost obscene amount of butter in everything, she’s actually done quite a bit more. I wouldn’t necessarily say that she has a dark backstory, but both she and her husband have much more going on behind the scenes than I would have guessed based on watching the show.
Raised in a Jewish household, Ina Garten was born in Brooklyn, New York, and grew up in Connecticut. Both her parents were highly educated and worked in STEM fields— her father being a surgeon and her mother a dietician. Much like her parents, Ina showed an aptitude for science and went on to get her MBA at George Washington University. Although impressive, none of this is particularly surprising or would suggest the level of duality the title of this article suggests.
Just bare(foot) with me. Before she had even fully finished her education, Ina Garten lived in DC and began working at the White House, eventually becoming Head of the Office of Management and Budget. This included (but was not limited to) writing up the nuclear budget and policy for presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter.
Both Ina and her husband, Jeffrey, held fairly high political positions in DC, where they lived at the time. Jeffrey was the Undersecretary of Commerce for International Trade and a professor of international trade, finance and business at Yale University. Recognized largely for often being seen moseying in the background of “Barefoot Contessa” and interacting with his wife in an extremely sweet and domestic fashion, no one would guess that he actually served a four-year military tour in Vietnam.
It was during this time that Ina not only began dabbling in cooking and entertainment to occupy herself but also ended up getting her pilot’s license. I have yet to find whether this pursuit was for some form of career advancement or simply for fun. Regardless, it does make sense that she has skills and interests beyond that of cooking; I just wouldn’t have guessed that flying planes was the go-to.
According to Food Network, Ina Garten officially started hosting Barefoot Contessa in November of 2002, which brought her a large amount of recognition and acclaim. It soon became clear that although her position in the White House was no doubt both productive and impressive, Ina’s true love came in the form of food and she fully switched her career over to hosting the American Food Network show.
Beyond being extremely wealthy and successful in terms of having hosted such a well-known show, Ina Garten has also published three personal cookbooks (among other things) as well as written several columns for Oprah. In 2006 she launched her own line of packaged goods for easy and fast at-home cooking, including but not limited to cake mixes, marinades and preserves.
Although it may seem as if her commitment to “Barefoot Contessa” and moving away from the White House and nuclear policy would have mellowed her, Ina Garten still continues to have some exciting traits. She happens to be a huge supporter of Planned Parenthood and served as hostess for their 16th Annual Hudson Peconic benefit meeting.
Registered as a Democrat, she has worked towards and contributed both time and financial support to the presidential campaigns of George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. She and her husband now sit on quite a pretty sum and have been known to use it to support their political leanings and (I like to think) towards making use of her unexplained and yet very entertaining pilot’s license. Ina and Jeffrey now live as an adorable and cohesive couple, dividing their time between Manhattan, East Hampton and Paris.
As much as researching Ina Garten in all her glory was an absolute shock and joy, I also find her to be incredibly representative of the cast differences and unpredictability of women. No two women are alike, but the strangeness and randomness of each individual are what makes the world so interesting. I find this at-home chef to be a prime example of this. In honor of Women’s History Month, I thought Ina Garten’s was an appropriate story to tell.
Societal stereotypes claim that women “belong in the kitchen.” The laughable part of this is that even if that were the case, Ina Garten and the wild unpredictability of her life has shown that women are also meant to design nuclear policy, become politically involved, and gain their pilot’s license alongside the baking of cupcakes.