Ina Garten: The Barefoot Late Bloomer

Ina Garten: The Barefoot Late Bloomer

My cousin’s daughter Carrie is starting Southern Oregon University, where she’ll major in Theatre and minor in Shakespeare Studies. She requested we make a special trip to see her off.

So my husband and I got on a plane for Santa Rosa’s Charles M. Schultz to visit Carrie and my family in Lake County, just over the border from Napa Valley.

Last year I sent Carrie my old Renaissance Faire costume (from the ’80s, ahem), but I hadn’t seen her since she was ten. I was so touched. And wine-tasting, of course, was on the itinerary.

Carrie sweetly volunteered to be our “designated driver” around Calistoga. I’d heard about the Castello di Amoroso, an authentic reproduction of a 12th c. Tuscan stronghold that produces sustainable wines. Carrie loves historical pageantry and we love wine, so it was a perfect pairing.

Ina Garten: The Barefoot Later Bloomer at Debra Eve's Later Bloomer.com
Castello di Amoroso

The Castello’s a wonder. It’s obvious that artisans lovingly crafted each stone, mural and piece of furniture, no expense spared.

The money came from Dario Sattui, great-grandson of pioneer California vinter Vittorio Sattui. Vittorio lost his winery to Prohibition but lived well into his 90s, long enough to give young Dario a magnificent dream.

In 1972, Dario got his MBA, raised $8000 and reopened old Vittorio’s winery after it’d been dormant for 50 years. V. Sattui Winery became one of Napa Valley’s phenomenal success stories, and let Dario indulge his passion for medieval Italian architecture.

But according to Castello detractors, it’s inauthentic, a tourist trap, and an insult to true wine connoisseurs. It’s easy to trash someone else’s magnificent dream, especially when they make it come true.

It’s kind of like trashing The Barefoot Contessa, Ina Garten (b. 1948), for being neither barefoot, nor a contessa, nor even Italian for that matter.

An Education Deferred For Love

Like her predecessor Julia Child, Ina started out as a civil servant. She analyzed nuclear policy for the Ford and Carter administrations. But even before that, she showed classic signs of late blooming.

Ina dropped out of college to marry her high school sweetheart, Jeffrey, who’d been drafted into the Vietnam War. After Jeffrey completed his tour of duty, the couple spent four months camping through France, where Ina (again, like Julia) discovered her passion for French cuisine.

Jeffrey found work in Washington, D.C. and Ina went back to school, earning her MBA from George Washington University. She took an entry-level government job and worked her way up to that nuclear analyst position for the Office of Management and Budget. She found it exciting, “but it wasn’t me at all.”

Long before blogger Julie Powell made Julia Child her inspiration, Ina “…learned how to cook by working my way through every recipe in both volumes of Julia Child’s The Art of French Cooking.” She adored giving dinner parties for her and Jeffrey’s government friends.

But by 1978, the excitement wore thin. Ina found herself thinking, “I’ve got to do something more creative.” She came across an ad for a specialty food store for sale in the Hamptons. “It was love at first sight.” She lowballed a figure and the owner accepted, to Ina’s shock.

Birth Of The Barefoot Contessa

The store was named The Barefoot Contessa, after a classic Bogart film. Ina kept the name because it was “elegant and earthy.”

She had no food business experience. Over the next 18 years, she learned by doing and transformed The Barefoot Contessa into a celebrated gourmet shop.

By 1996, Ina was ready to remake herself again. She sold the store to two employees, moved into an office above and started writing a cookbook.

 “The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook turned out to be the most exciting thing I’ve ever done professionally and the response from readers has been absolutely overwhelming.”

More books followed, and The Food Network came knocking. Ina gave them the “only reasonable” answer (given her love of the quiet life in the Hamptons):

“‘Absolutely not!’ And they very kindly kept coming back every six months asking me if I would reconsider it.”

They took 18 months to convince her. The Barefoot Contessa show debuted in 2002, when Ina was 54.

Ina Garten: The Barefoot Later Bloomer at Debra Eve's Later Bloomer.com

To Build A Gourmet Shop Or A Wine Castle

Today, at age 63, Ina is a celebrity chef who never attended cooking school nor worked in a restaurant!

Like Dario Sattui, she used her MBA as a stepping stone to a magnificent dream. It gave her the job that gave her the funds to buy a brick-and-mortar store, but Ina taught herself to cook and to manage the business. She could have kept at it another 18 years, but she wanted to share her knowledge and passion by writing a book.

And then there’s my young cousin Carrie, off to study Theatre and Shakespeare. I’m know she’ll succeed in her magnificent dream. Not one adult in her sphere has asked, “What can you do with a theatre degree?”

But for those of us who didn’t get that kind of support, or who got degrees out of duty contrary to our dreams, Ina Garten reminds us a lifetime of passionate self-learning can commence at any age.

Or as Dario Sattui says, “It’s not about the wine, it’s about having a good time.”

17 Responses

  1. David Stevens
    | Reply

    Hi ElleB,
    Delightful as usual. Looks like you enjoyed the wine tour, as you would. Been a few years since I visited our Hunter & Barossa Valleys, may be time to revisit?
    be good to yourself
    David

    • Elle B.
      |

      Thanks, David! It’s always been one of my dreams to visit your Australian wine country. You should definitely go back 🙂

  2. Samantha Stacia
    | Reply

    Hi! Your site is So wonderful! Very professional and chock full of interesting information about Late Bloomers that I have been trying to find for a long time! I don’t know how you found all this but I am sure glad you did!
    Samantha Stacia

    • Elle B.
      |

      Thank you, Samantha. And I’m so excited to have found the She Writes Blooming Later forum! I think it will be the subject of a blog post sometime soon…

  3. Michael Walden
    | Reply

    It’s amazing how things I *thought* I would have no interest in are indeed very interesting! Thanks for schooling me once again Elle!

    • Michael Walden
      |

      How did my post notice get there? It is not my intention to advertise my site when I comment on other sites… hmmm just saw the stuff under the comment box…is there a way to turn that off? I just don’t feel right announcing posts in comments…

    • Elle B.
      |

      That’s a WordPress plug-in called Comment Luv. I’m still playing with the technical end of my site. I’ve turned it off for you, and will see if there’s a way to make it a choice.

    • Michael Walden
      |

      Oh! I see. Kind of a reward for commenting kind of thing? That is kind of neat actually, well if you can make it an option 🙂 It’s just that I’m not one of those that runs around commenting on other people’s blogs so that they’ll comment on mine or even acknowledge mine. I read other’s blogs because they interest me, and oh…I’ve added yours to my blog roll 🙂

    • Elle B.
      |

      Wow, thank you, Michael. I’m honored!

    • Elle B.
      |

      Thanks, Michael. I always find it fascinating when people go from something like nuclear policy analyst to professional chef! Glad you did too.

  4. Dave Doolin
    | Reply

    So, two things:
    1. I was at Castello di Amoroso in late June. My impression: they really have it going on. Everything the critics say, yes, and making loads of money by making people happy.

    2. Wave at me next time you’re driving by the Bay Area. I’m just north of Berkeley.

    • Elle B.
      |

      Hi Dave, there’s no doubt the Castello is a bit of an adult Disneyland. I thought the wine critics were a bit harsh though. We got one of those gregarious retirees as a guide, a guy who REALLY loved his job, and he let us taste all nine wines for the price of five. Some were excellent. That was our first trip in eight years, but we definitely plan to go more often now. Will definitely wave!

  5. Cynthia
    | Reply

    Thank you for the inspirational ‘late bloomers’ blog and the inclusion of my beloved Ina Garten and a prime example of the levels of success that late bloomers are achieving. My own personal story involving Ina centers around the devastating EF-5 tornado that destroyed my city, Joplin, Missouri, a year ago May 22nd. Although we had lost our homes, many friends and family members (161 died), we would meet each day at the home of a friend who had been spared, to watch our beloved ‘Barefoot Contessa’. It was our small way of trying to recapture normalcy and to forget the grief and tragedy that had befallen our community. On the one-year anniversary of the storm, I wrote to Ina, thanking her for her show and for unknowingly being an integral part of our recovery. To our delight, Ina had been devastated by news of the tornado, and had been following Joplin’s recovery efforts. She wrote back to us with her encouragement, sympathy and well-wishes, and thanked us for being such fans of her show. She was humbled that we thought so highly of her. She is a lady of class, dignity, grace, and many talents . . . an exemplary ‘late bloomer’ whom we all wish to emulate in some small way.
    Thank you, Debra Eve, for recognizing Ina for the wonderful lady that she is.

    • Debra Eve
      |

      Thank you so much for your touching story, Cynthia. I don’t know if you read the scandal around her last year, when Ina “refused” to see a little boy dying of cancer. The Make A Wish Foundation and the press vilified her. To me, it sounded like her scheduling people checked her calendar and made the wrong decision, since I couldn’t believe she herself would actually refuse. They’ve since basically admitted that and your story just confirms it. Too bad Joplin’s story didn’t get equal press time.

  6. Lynne Strang
    | Reply

    Wonderful story, Elle B!

    • Debra Eve
      |

      Thank you, Lynne!

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