Ina Garten never learned to cook as a child. After she married, she cooked and entertained--the two are inseparable for her--to keep busy while her husband fought in Vietnam. In 1972, the couple spent a frugal, romantic four months camping in France, where Ina began a never-ending love affair with French cooking. At home, she began a serious lifelong study of Mastering the Art of French Cooking--the world's most popular book on French cooking by beloved chef, Julia Child.
Over the next few years, Ina completed her economics degree and MBA. In 1978, she was working as a White House budget analyst, writing white papers about nuclear energy plants. Her job stress was exhausting, so--rather rashly--she left her lucrative Washington job to buy a specialty food store called Barefoot Contessa in Westhampton Beach, N.Y.
The Barefoot Contessa shop--and Ina Garten's insistence on quality--attracted opportunities for growth. Today, the Barefoot Contessa Food Network show has one of the network's highest viewerships and has been nominated for a Daytime Emmy. Ina's Barefoot Contessa Pantry line of packaged foods is sold only through high-end cookware and gourmet shops. She has published five cookbooks, and her recent multi-million-dollar contract for two more cookbooks is the largest ever awarded to a cookbook author.
Ina Garten didn't attend culinary school and is not a chef, but her success illustrates what a single-minded focus on excellent cooking can accomplish. Her show, books, and products all have the same theme: what matters most is good food shared with good friends. This self-taught late bloomer can inspire current and future chefs.