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Ina Garten's calming culinary empire

Ina Garten: The 60 Minutes Interview
Ina Garten: The 60 Minutes Interview 13:37

We begin tonight's menu with a visit with Ina Garten, one of the most beloved cooks in the country, known as the "Barefoot Contessa." Her cookbooks have sold millions of copies, her weekly television show has run for two decades, earned seven Emmys, three James Beard Awards and millions of devoted fans who tune in as much for the cooking lesson, as the cocktail party that typically follows. And when Sharyn Alfonsi first met her in October, we learned that Ina Garten isn't quite as freewheeling as you might think. As impressive as her culinary chops may be, Ina Garten's success hinges on hard work, shrewd business sense and leaving nothing to chance.

Whether she's whipping up one of her signature chicken dishes, slinging cosmos for her real-life friends, or scooping ice cream – Ina Garten is a calming presence in the kitchen, taking the mystery out of cooking.   

She has built a culinary empire by making it all look effortless.

Ina Garten: I know people don't believe this. But I'm really a nervous cook. And I'm sure every recipe's gonna turn out wrong. So I'm incredibly precise.

Sharyn Alfonsi: Even now?

Ina Garten: Even now. I'm there with cookbook going, "Is it a half a teaspoon or a whole teaspoon?" 

Sharyn Alfonsi: Are you really?

Ina Garten: I follow my own recipes exactly. Because I've spent so much time getting the balance of flavors and textures and everything right. I'm really not a confident cook. 

Sharyn Alfonsi: I would think that you were, like, you know, swigging wine and tossing in herbs.

Ina Garten: Let's keep that image going. How's that?

  Ina Garten and correspondent Sharyn Alfonsi

At 74, the image of Ina Garten, with her denim shirt, chic scarfs and signature bob, is as reliable as the tried-and-true recipes she's built her reputation on. Those recipes are a roadmap for home cooks from a home cook.  

Ina Garten: People like Bobby Flay have worked in restaurant kitchens all his life. And he can just throw things together. You know, I've watched him. And he's such a brilliant cook. I'm not that person. I didn't have that experience.

Sharyn Alfonsi: When you say you're testing and testing, yourself at first, how many times do you have to make something before you get it right?

Ina Garten: Sometimes ten times, sometimes 25 times.

Sharyn Alfonsi: Really? 

Ina Garten: And then I'll print out a page and give it to one of my assistants and watch them make it. And you, it so surprises me what people do. I was making lentil salad, warm French lentils. And she was putting in garlic in it. I said, "What are you doing?" And she said, "Well, it said cloves, cloves of garlic in it." And I was like, "No, it's cloves, not cloves of garlic." And I thought, "I never would have made that mistake. But somebody else at home is gonna make that mistake." So I just want you to feel like I'm right there beside you, just kind of guiding you through the recipe.

Garten has been guiding viewers from her home in East Hampton, New York for 20 years.   

Ina Garten: I love these tomatoes.

Sharyn Alfonsi: Do you really do the gardening?

Ina Garten: Well, I point.

Sharyn Alfonsi: So, yes.

Ina Garten: Yes. 

It may seem like she grew out of the rich Long Island soil, she did not. Born in Brooklyn, New York, Ina Rosenberg grew up in Stamford, Connecticut. Her dad was a doctor. Her mom, a dietician. As a teenager, she was instructed to stay out of the kitchen and excel in school - she did both. She met her future husband, Jeffrey Garten, while she was 16 years old and, four years later, they were married. Jeffrey, a lieutenant in the 82nd Airborne, later took her backpacking through France. She came home with an ambitious mission.

Ina Garten: So I got Julia Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking." And I just worked my way through those books, which were very complicated recipes. I mean, there were ingredients in each recipe that was another recipe in itself. And I loved that challenge.

Sharyn Alfonsi: You never went to cooking school.

Ina Garten: Never went to cooking school.

Sharyn Alfonsi: Was Julia Child's book your cooking school?

Ina Garten: Julia Child was my cooking school, yeah. Exactly.


Her actual degree was in economics. At 26, she had a job at the White House, analyzing nuclear energy policy for the Ford administration. Jeffrey worked around the corner at the State Department. Each weekend, Ina says they'd devote their time to less bureaucratic pursuits like making a great dinner party look simple. 

Ina Garten: To this day I follow this. I never made something for a dinner party I hadn't made several times. So I would, on Monday I would make the roast leg of lamb with tomatoes with duxelles, which are minced, finely minced mushrooms for Jeffrey for dinner. 

Sharyn Alfonsi: Lucky man. 

Ina Garten: And then I make it again on Wednesday. And then by Saturday I knew how to make it. And the poor guy would go, "Oh, this is delicious. What is this?" 

After a thousand dinner parties and two administrations – at 30 years old, Ina had burned out of life inside the Beltway. In 1978, she saw an ad in the back of the New York Times for a 400 square foot "speciality food store" in Westhampton, New York, called, "The Barefoot Contessa."  

"The Barefoot Contessa," Garten's first store

Sharyn Alfonsi: But you had never been to the Hamptons.

Ina Garten:  I'd never been.

Sharyn Alfonsi: You didn't know anything about running a store.

Ina Garten: I knew how to make 12 brownies for my friends. But I certainly didn't know how to make 100 brownies. I didn't even know how to cash out the register or slice smoked salmon or I mean to me, brie was a like a foreign language. 

Sharyn Alfonsi: So was it confidence that allowed you to do that? Or was it that you were being naïve?

Ina Garten: I have a very low threshold of boredom. And I was really bored with my job. And I just thought, "This is really exciting. This is what I do for fun. And now I can do it professionally." And so I just thought, "I'm just gonna jump in," thinking-- "Well, how hard could this be?" Oh, my God. 

It was really hard. The Gartens say they double mortgaged their house. Ina told us she was working 20 hours a day to keep up with the crowds who came to gawk at the goods and load up on lobster salad. Soon, she opened a bigger shop in East Hampton. 

Ina Garten: It's very deliberate. I was always doing research. You know, it looked like I was just having a good time of, you know, wandering around having a party. But it was all careful and deliberate.

A calculating businesswoman, Ina Garten elevated the food scene –and soon had finicky Hamptons clientele falling over themselves to have the Barefoot Contessa cater their weddings or Thanksgiving. 

Ina Garten: And every year we would pack up the orders Wednesday night so people could come in Thursday morning. And I would use the van out-- out-- next to the store as a refrigerator. And one year, it was like 33° when I was going home. And I thought, "Nobody wants frozen Thanksgiving dinner." So I drove the van home.  And I set my alarm for every single hour, all night to turn the heat on for a few minutes, and then go back to sleep. 

Sharyn Alfonsi: To keep the turkeys warm.

Ina Garten: To keep the turkeys-- well, the turkeys we roasted in the morning. But, like, the vegetables and the sides and all that stuff. 

After 18 years, Garten decided to sell the Barefoot Contessa in 1996.

Ina Garten: So, I mean, one minute I'm making 1,000 baguettes. And the next minute I have nothing to-- I mean, nothing to do.

Sharyn Alfonsi: How was that?

Ina Garten: It was horrible. And I thought, "You know, I'm 50. Maybe that's the end of my career." 

Hardly. The lull lasted 9 months before Garten started writing "The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook," the first of 13 cookbooks, ten of which have become New York Times Bestsellers. Crushing big name chefs by remembering the lessons learned at her specialty food shop.


Ina Garten: I realized later what I knew was what people wanted to eat at home, which was roast chicken and roast carrots and chocolate cake and coconut cupcakes and things that I knew from the store people bought and took home.

Sharyn Alfonsi: You weren't trying to say, "Here's everything I know." You were saying, "Here's what you need to know."

Ina Garten: Yeah, here's what will make you happy at home.

Her latest cookbook, "Go to Dinners," was inspired by the pandemic. And again, Ina is in every detail. 

Sharyn Alfonsi: One of things about the book that is not by accident is that you can put it on the counter, and it doesn't flop shut. 

Ina Garten: I'm so glad you noticed that.

Early on, Garten sought out a printer in Japan so her cookbooks would lie flat and wouldn't close while cooking. She designed them to have white space for notes, and pictures as guides. Simplicity is non-negotiable.

Sharyn Alfonsi: Do you ever throw something out because it's too difficult to make? 

Ina Garten:  Absolutely. If I get to a point in a recipe and I go, "I'm never gonna make this recipe again," everything goes in the trash. And if you're exhausted by the time you finish that, you're -- it's not good for the party.

Sharyn Alfonsi: So you're thinking about the party above all things--

Ina Garten: I'm always thinking about the party.

The party got real big, real fast after Ina was invited to be on Martha Stewart's show. An outtake caught the eye of a food network executive.

Ina Garten: She said that I was making something. And I took a spoonful of it and tasted it and go, "This is really good." And-- and the Martha Stewart crew said, "Cut. You can't talk with your mouth full." And I was like, "Why? It's a cooking show."

Garten told network executives she didn't want a show, but eventually, gave in - with a caveat. Instead of an adoring studio audience, she insisted on a more intimate affair, in her kitchen. She directed the cameras to come closer, so it felt like a dinner party.

Sharyn Alfonsi: One of the things I'm fascinated by is that there are a lot of people who watch your show who don't--

Ina Garten: Don't cook--

Sharyn Alfonsi: --cook.

Sharyn Alfonsi: What do you think the appeal is? Why are they watching you cook?

Ina Garten: I think there was a time when mom was in the kitchen cooking for us. And-- I think people feel like they're just hanging out with me and I'm cooking for them.

Sharyn Alfonsi: When you're cooking, you're not-- it's not about, "Look at me."

Ina Garten: Oh, it's never about, "Look at me." I'm like, "Don't look at me." I'm just the opposite. It's funny, I-- I have a friend who said, "Everybody else is, like, 'Look at me. Look at me. You know, pay attention to me.'" And I'm like, "Well, this is what I do. You can do whatever the f*** you want to do." And I'm just having fun here.

The fun came to a screeching halt for Ina and everyone else during the pandemic. Unable to film her show, or cook for her friends, Garten turned to Instagram. Offering practical advice to home cooks and stirring up some fun.

Jeffrey and Ina Garten with correspondent Sharyn Alfonsi

Two cups of vodka and more than 3 million views later, with the lock down over, we wanted to make sure Ina didn't have to drink alone. 

Sharyn Alfonsi: Do this and Jeffrey arrives. 

Ina Garten: Hi sweetie. You know Sharyn, right. 

Jeffrey Garten: I know Sharyn, hi Sharyn.

Ina Garten: So we made a red grapefruit paloma for you.

Jeffrey Garten: Wow.

Mr. Garten had a successful career on Wall Street and served as the dean of Yale's business school, but millions of viewers know him simply as Jeffrey.      

Sharyn Alfonsi: Ina has called you her muse before. What is she to you?

Jeffrey Garten: Well, she's the center of my life.

Ina Garten: Aw.

Jeffrey Garten: She's actually the font of enormous amount of fun. And she is the center of the home. That's what she is to me.

Ina Garten: Thank you. That's not bad.

The couple has been married for more than 50 years.

Sharyn Alfonsi: Is this a typical day at the house? You just have a cocktail? 

Ina Garten: Oh yeah, we have cocktails all the time.

Sharyn Alfonsi: Do you?

Jeffrey Garten: Couple of times a day. 

Sharyn Alfonsi: And that's the secret to a happy marriage.

Ina Garten: That's exactly right. 

Jeffrey Garten: Just delicious.

Ina Garten: Thank you.

The next morning, we went looking for carbs. But in the Hamptons the corner shop doesn't sell donuts. 

Ina Garten: This is Carissa's

Sharyn Alfonsi: So cute

Ina Garten: Isn't it wonderful? 

Garten took us to her favorite local bakery for a taste of the good life. 

Sharyn Alfonsi: What is it that you love about this spot?

Ina Garten: Well, first I love Carissa's because it's two local women. And the two of them have built this extraordinary place with great quality food. It's—they use local ingredients in almost everything. And they're here every day. And it just feels like what I used to do. It feels like coming home.

Ina Garten: Oh, look how fabulous that is. Wow.

Sharyn Alfonsi: Oh that is fancy pants. This is just what I would typically have for breakfast.

Ina Garten: Exactly. 

Sharyn Alfonsi: This is all lovely. But the bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich is like $20. A lobster roll is $38.

Ina Garten: But, you know, first of all, it's organic. It's local. And things are expensive here. But it's not just a piece of white bread. It's on a roll that Carissa made. And one of the luxuries of being here is that you can make a really good quality product.

Garten's life isn't all french pastries and rose colored cocktails, but we thought it's pretty dang close. She may still be a nervous cook, but Ina Garten has nailed the recipe for a good life. 

Ina Garten: I want to do what I love doing. And I want to do it really well. And then I want to have a life.

Sharyn Alfonsi: Julia sold French food, right? Martha sold perfection. You're slinging fun. 

Ina Garten: Well, I just think-- if you're not having fun what's the point, really?

Produced by Michael Karzis. Associate producer, Katie Kerbstat Jacobson. Broadcast associate, Elizabeth Germino. Edited by Matthew Danowski.

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