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Ina Garten Got Her Start in the White House Instead of the Kitchen

Ina Garten, better known as The Barefoot Contessa, is a cookbook author, host of the Food Network show, Cook Like a Pro, and queen of dinner parties. She wasn't always a well known Food Network star, and certainly not always involved in the food business. Long before her successful cooking shows, Ina Garten worked at the White House. Yep, the political, Washington D.C. White House. While it seems far-fetched from the woman whose cooking shows we know and love today, her journey is quite fascinating.

Where Did Ina Garten Get Her Start?

Ina credits her husband, Jeffrey Garten for her jump into the workforce. In her youth, women were not expected to work outside the home. Martha Stewart living was the name of the game for most women, even in places like Manhattan in New York City. Jeffrey always encouraged her to work and do something that would make her happy. Her first job was working as a budget analyst for the White House Office of Management and Budget. She worked there under the Carter Ford administrations. Her specific role was to work on nuclear energy policy and nuclear energy budget. After almost four years, she was unsatisfied and unfulfilled.

Right before turning 30 she decided she wanted to do something she was passionate about. According to Ina, "I thought, I want to be in the food business."  Her husband Jeffrey was extremely supportive saying, "If you love it, you'll be really good at it." The next day, she began the path that would lead to her future kitchen success.

Ina Garten's White House To Specialty Food Store 

In 1978, Ina saw an ad for Barefoot Contessa, a specialty food store in Westhampton Beach, eventually moving the store to East Hampton in Long Island. After receiving Jeffrey's well wishes, she submitted a low-ball offer. Much to her surprise the Barefoot Contessa store accepted. As excited and nervous as Ina was, her parents were a bit shocked to learn she had given up her prestigious job with Jimmy Carter to run a grocery store. They couldn't have predicted her future success. This is probably the kind of family drama you'd see on shows like Oprah or Dr. Phil these days.

Ina Garten had no real cooking experience, but taught herself to cook by watching Julia Child. Even now, after her prominent culinary career, she still considers herself a home cook.

Ina Garten's Success Continues

18 years after opening Barefoot Contessa, Ina Garten sold the store to two of her employees. Three years later she published her first cookbook, The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook. It featured recipes from her store, which focused on ease and simplicity. People loved her approachable recipes and she's gone on to publish a new cookbook every two years, with 11 in total.

Her cookbooks in order include: Barefoot Contessa Parties, Barefoot Contessa Family Style, Barefoot in Paris, Barefoot Contessa At Home, Back to Basics, How Easy is That, Foolproof, Make It Ahead, Cooking for Jeffrey, and Modern Comfort Food. Her newest book has already topped the New York Times bestseller list.

Though Ina Garten's White House days are long gone, she continues to inspire other home cooks through her books and television shows. Her roast chicken is one of her crowning jewels, and a version is featured in every cookbook. Get a copy of any of her cookbooks on Amazon.