The Truth About Ina Garten's Cooking Show Barefoot Contessa

There are few Food Network stars so famous and beloved as Ina Garten, who got her start on the channel hosting her show Barefoot Contessa in 2002.

Garten, a former White House employee, found her footing in the food world later in life than you might expect. She first found success as the owner of a small gourmet shop in the Hamptons. At the age of 51, she then became a successful cookbook author and magazine columnist after releasing a book of recipes based on the simple, gourmet food she sold out of her shop, before finally delving into the world of television. Once she was on screen, her brand of earthy yet elegant cooking took the world by storm.

Barefoot Contessa has aired for 26 seasons over a span of 17 years, and Garten has filmed one-off seasonal specials for Food Network as well, becoming one of their most famous stars.

But how did someone with no professional cooking experience make her way from working as a budget analyst in the White House (including writing the nuclear budget during the Ford and Carter administrations) to becoming a world-renowned television host and celebrity chef? These are things every Garten fan should know about her show, Barefoot Contessa.

Barefoot Contessa isn't filmed in Ina Garten's home kitchen

Barefoot Contessa shows Ina Garten cooking in a spacious white kitchen in the Hamptons. But since 2007, the kitchen you see Garten cooking in on television isn't actually the kitchen inside the house where Ina lives.

Instead, Barefoot Contessa is filmed in Garten's "barn." Garten purchased the barn property (which is really an upscale guest house with ample working space), which was next to her main house in the Hamptons, and had a state-of-the-art kitchen installed. This is where she tests recipes with her assistants for her show and for her cookbooks, and it's also the kitchen where Barefoot Contessa is filmed, just yards away from Ina's house and actual kitchen. 

And about that kitchen? Well, it's rumored that the kitchen in the barn is almost identical to the kitchen in the main house. Maybe this makes it easier for Garten to feel at home when she's filming, and it could be why she seems so comfortable cooking for her many party guests and visitors on Barefoot Contessa.

As you might expect of a professional cook, everything in the kitchen is top of the line. Garten has two Sub-Zero refrigerators and an eight-burner Viking stove in her arsenal, which means she can do some serious cooking. The kitchen layout is roomy enough for her to work with her assistants, and it also allows for 360-degree views of her cooking when Barefoot Contessa is filming.

Ina Garten has never seen an episode of Barefoot Contessa

Whether she's cooking, grilling, visiting shops in town, or entertaining a group of friends, Ina Garten seems effortlessly comfortable on television, which is why it might surprise some fans to learn that she actually hates being on camera. She doesn't even watch her own show.

"I couldn't possibly. If I watched a show, I don't think I'd ever do it again," Garten shared in an interview with Food Network. "Filming is still the most frightening thing I've done. It's just sheer terror. I haven't gotten used to it yet."

On the rare occasion where Garten has had to watch clips of her show during the editorial and review process, she's hated every second of it.

"It's just painful. I couldn't even tell you what I'm most self-critical about — it's everything!"

But it's not just Barefoot Contessa that Garten declines to watch. In general, Garten says she doesn't watch many cooking shows. "I've seen other cooking shows, but I don't watch them." However, there is one program she does like. "I do love The Great British Bake Off — it's really fun."

Barefoot Contessa was a specialty food store before it was a TV show

Long before Ina Garten had her own television show on Food Network, she was the owner and operator of a gourmet shop in the Hamptons — a store called Barefoot Contessa.

Garten bought the shop in 1978 after seeing it advertised for sale in a newspaper, deciding that she needed a more creative outlet than her current job at the White House Office of Management and Budget was offering her.

At first, Garten was totally out of her element. "I was sure it would be a one-summer thing," she said in an interview. "I didn't know how to hire people. I didn't know how to slice smoked salmon; I didn't know how to choose brie."

To make the transition easier, Garten decided to focus on what she did know — making classic comfort foods with a gourmet twist, like baked goods and her famous roast chicken. The shop catered events around the Hamptons, and even Martha Stewart was a fan.

The store was a huge success, but eventually it became such a large enterprise that Garten found herself ready to move on — luckily for all of her devoted viewers. Garten sold Barefoot Contessa to the store's manager and chef in 1996, wrote her first Barefoot Contessa cookbook (a wild success), and started filming her Food Network show of the same name in 2002.

The name Barefoot Contessa has multiple meanings

Barefoot Contessa is obviously a name that means something to Ina Garten, who used it as the title for her television show even though it was based on the name of her store in the Hamptons, which she had sold years before going on television. But where does the name Barefoot Contessa actually come from?

Actually, the meaning of the name is two-fold. Garten said on her own blog that Barefoot Contessa "was the original name of my specialty food store after a movie with Ava Gardner and Humphrey Bogart." The 1954 Joseph Mankiewicz film, starring Humphrey Bogart and Ava Gardner, was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, and took home an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.

But there's more to it than that.

The reason why the store was named after that movie is because the original owner, who Garten bought the store from in 1978, was an Italian woman whose family referred to her as the Barefoot Contessa when she was a girl. Garten liked the name when she bought the store, so she stuck with it.

"It means being both elegant and earthy," she explained, which definitely seems representative of her upscale comfort-food culinary ethos.

Ina Garten never cooks with cilantro on Barefoot Contessa

Ina Garten's Hamptons home has a fabulous, sprawling herb garden, and on her show she often picks fresh herbs to use in the dishes she's cooking. But while she often uses rosemary, parsley, chives, and dill, the one herb you'll never see her cook with on Barefoot Contessa is cilantro.

That's because, simply put, Garten hates it.

When asked in an interview how she feels about cilantro, Garten exclaimed "Hate it!" She went on to say "I just hate it. To me it's so strong—and it actually tastes like soap to me— but it's so strong it overpowers every other flavor."

Cilantro is a very polarizing herb, and it turns out the real reason many people hate cilantro is actually genetic. Apparently, for people who have the OR26A gene, cilantro tastes bitter, metallic, and like soap. It's not just in their heads — their palate is stuck thinking that the herb tastes horrible. 

Another famous chef that hated the herb was Julia Child. Child once said that if she was served a dish that contained cilantro, "I would pick it out if I saw it and throw it on the floor."

Garten is in good company. Still, she doesn't think that you should boycott cilantro just because she'll never cook with it on her show. "I know people love it, and you can add it to the recipe" if you think it calls for it, she said.

Ina Garten's recipe development process is very involved

Have you ever noticed that random recipes you find online can often end in disaster, but those you find in cookbooks tend to be a lot more reliable? That's because when cooks are writing their cookbooks, they often test each recipe multiple times. 

Ina Garten is notorious for meticulously testing all of her recipes before they wind up in her cookbooks or on the Barefoot Contessa TV show.

"I go through a whole process — I probably make most recipes at least 10 times and sometimes even 20 before it goes into a book." For example, she made her red wine-braised short ribs using different cuts of short ribs, with meat sourced from different grocery stores, and on both a gas and electric stove until she was confident that any cook anywhere cook make the recipe flawlessly in their home kitchen.

If Garten can't get a recipe perfect, it's not featured. One recipe that's gotten her goat for years? Boston cream pie. She's been working on her Boston cream pie recipe for more than six years. "There are so many different things that have to go right for it to be good, and I'm close but I'm not there yet," she said.

All of that recipe testing probably means that Garten's house is full of tasting samples to snack on, right? Think again. Garten is such a perfectionist that not even husband Jeffrey is allowed to taste any of the food she makes until she considers the recipe to be perfect.

Ina Garten isn't a professionally trained chef

One thing that stands out about Ina Garten's recipes is that they're mostly upscale, elegant takes on classic dishes, but without any flashy, chef-y touches that are hard to master at home. That makes a lot of sense when you consider the fact that Garten has no professional training — she's completely self-taught.

Garten never worked in a restaurant or went to culinary school. She didn't start cooking until after she was married. "I think the first meal I ever made I baked challah," she said, noting that she likes tackling new, difficult recipes. It seems like getting married and cooking for her husband, Jeffrey, became a lifelong passion — she even eventually wrote a cookbook called Cooking With Jeffrey

After that first load of challah, she says "I really learned how to cook by working my way through every recipe in both volumes of Julia Child's The Art of French Cooking."

She'd been cooking at home for awhile when she finally decided to buy the Barefoot Contessa shop in the Hamptons. "I had no idea at the time how to run a business or how to buy food wholesale," she says, but she knew that working with food was meant to be her destiny — and it was a gamble that clearly paid off.

Ina Garten and her husband Jeffrey, who is frequently on the show, have been married for 50+ years

The most frequent guest on Barefoot Contessa is Ina Garten's husband, Jeffrey. Whether Garten is cooking her husband a romantic brunch, dedicating an entire cookbook to him, or having him operate the grill during a summer barbecue, Jeffrey is often on the show enjoying the fruits of Ina's labor. But how long has this arrangement been going on?

Well, the duo have been married for more than 50 years. They met when both were very young — Ina, 15, was still in high school, and met 17-year-old-Jeffrey when visiting her brother at Dartmouth. The two hit it off and began writing letters to one another, dated while Ina was in college at Syracuse University, and finally married in 1968, when Ina was 20 and Jeffrey was 22.

The duo lived in Washington for a long while, while Ina worked at the White House, but Jeffrey supported her when she saw the "for sale" ad for the Barefoot Contessa store in the newspaper, and encouraged her to buy it. Apparently, Jeffrey told her "pick something you love to do. If you love doing it, you will be really good at it."

The advice seems to have paid off. These days, Ina's career as a famous television cook and cookbook author is going as strong as ever, and she and Jeffrey have been married for more than half a century.

Ina Garten's assistants do a lot of behind-the-scenes work

Ina Garten works hard preparing recipes for her Barefoot Contessa show and cookbooks, but there's more than she can do on her own. That's why she has two loyal personal assistants, Barbara Libath and Lidey Heuck, who help her with the behind-the-scenes work.

Barbara Libath has been helping Garten out with her Barefoot Contessa brand since 1999, after Garten published her first successful cookbook, but before the Barefoot Contessa television show took off. Libath was hired when Garten, in a panic and in desperate need of help, told her to pick the days she wanted to work and to name her salary.

Though Libath started out helping Garten to navigate the financial and legal side of becoming a star, these days she also helps Garten test her famous recipes, and sometimes even cooks the dishes on her own so Garten can see if her recipes are successful when being cooked by someone else.

Garten's other assistant is Lidey Heuck, who was hired to be Garten's social media manager at the age of 22, thanks to having connections to the star (her friend's dad is Garten's lawyer). Heuck is more hands-on than most social media managers. She spends her days cooking with Garten in the kitchen, helping her create her cookbooks, running errands, traveling to events in the name of the Barefoot Contessa brand and with Garten, and encouraging the star to keep up with her popular Instagram account.

Barefoot Contessa is totally unscripted

Ina Garten has said before that she's terrified of being on camera. You'd think that maybe having a carefully written script to follow would help calm her nerves before each show, but it turns out that there actually isn't a script at all.

"One-hundred percent of the dialogue is improvised," Garten has said about Barefoot Contessa. "None of it is scripted. We work out when things go in the oven, so the food stylist can have things ready for me ― that kind of thing has to be scripted. But nothing I say is scripted."

It's impressive that even with her nerves, Garten is able to seem so effortless on screen. She's not following any script — she's just a natural on camera, especially when it comes to talking about cooking and her favorite recipes.

When Garten's goes into the shops in her Hamptons town to pick up flowers or pastries, and when friends come over for dinner parties and brunches each episode, what you're hearing is actual conversations between groups of friends. Likewise, her adorable flirtations with husband Jeffrey are totally authentic and off-the-cuff. It's this authenticity that makes Barefoot Contessa such a joy for so many to watch.

Barefoot Contessa only films for two months out of the year

There have been 26 seasons of Barefoot Contessa since the show started filming in 2002. That means that over the course of 17 years, more that one season of her show has been filmed and aired every 365 days. That's a lot of hours of television, so that must mean that Garten is perpetually stuck behind the camera, right? If that was the case, she might be pretty miserable with her job, considering how much she hates being on camera

Thankfully, Garten has found a work around. She's set up her schedule so that for most of the year she can focus on her real passion, which is testing recipes and writing cookbooks. She only films for a few months a year.

According to Garten, "Basically what I do is I write cookbooks and twice a year for about a month at a time I do the TV show"

Sure, those two months are busy, but the rest of her time can be spent writing cookbooks, perfecting new recipes to feature in her books and on Barefoot Contessa, and of course spend some time traveling with Jeffrey to their favorite destination, Paris.