VetFamily: Ina Garten, One of America's Favorite Chefs

Ina Garten

With the holiday season upon us, a hearty meal is the centerpiece of millions of homes across the country, and that means many households are looking for expert recipe advice. One of America’s great foodies is a VetFamily and she’s there to help!

The world knows Ina Garten as an award-winning author and culinary expert extraordinaire, but the “Barefoot Contessa” is also the spouse of an Army veteran for nearly 50 years. And with the publication of a new book that salutes him, Cooking for Jeffrey, America has the perfect homage for families grateful to be united with the one who served this holiday season.

“I think he’s like the husband we all want,” the Food Network star told People Magazine in an exclusive book tour interview in October. “Totally supportive, adorable, smart, funny, and incredibly generous.” 

With a lifetime of service behind his works, Jeffrey E. Garten brings military service and experience in the public and private sectors. A former Lieutenant with the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, Garten served under four presidential administrations (Nixon, Ford, Carter and Clinton), was dean of the Yale School of Management, and was a leading figure in the financial sector with firms such as Lehman Brothers and the Blackstone Group. He is a published author and has had articles published in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times, Foreign Affairs, and the Harvard Business Review.

Legend has it that Ina Garten, née Rosenberg, met Jeffrey Garten on the campus of Dartmouth at the ripe young age of 15, and got married five years later while Jeffrey was in the Army. After stops as military newlyweds in Ft. Bragg, North Carolina and Jeffrey’s service in Southeast Asia – mostly in Thailand – the couple eventually found their way to Washington DC where Ina worked with the White House Office of Management and Budget. Jeffrey, for his part, then left the Army and worked in government circles for three presidents during the 1970s.

They both pursued higher education during those DC years. Ina, already a graduate of Syracuse University, attended George Washington University while working at the White House, and got her MBA. Jeffrey got his MA and Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University, in addition to his BA from Dartmouth where he met Ina 53 years ago.

Service runs deep
Jeffrey Garten’s father, Melvin, led a 30-year military career spanning World War II through Vietnam when he lost a leg in 1966. According to the Village Voice’s obituary last year, Mel Garten was also blind in one eye, and upon enlisting after Pearl Harbor had to memorize the Army’s eye chart to gain acceptance. He was also recommended for the Congressional Medal of Honor for service in Korea, as captain of Company K, 31st Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division.

"In the last five years, he wrote seven books about his life," Jeffrey said about his father in the obit. "These were things we self-published. He wrote about the wars, he wrote about his wife, he wrote about his sons, he wrote about his retirement. He was almost immobile, but he just didn't stop living. That to me is quite inspiring."

Following her passion
Behind the accomplished exterior, Ina’s marriage to Jeffrey has stood the test of time. They are both mutually appreciative of each other’s role. Years ago, with a second mortgage, Ina quit her Washington beltway job to run her gourmet food store in the tony town of Westhampton, NY, called “Barefoot Contessa,” which eventually became the name of her hit television show on the Food Network.

"My wife wanted to change her life, and I was all for it," Jeffrey says, who at the time was working for Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in Washington, and relocated to New York to work at Lehman Brothers a year later.

“He’s a deeply appreciative, incredibly supportive husband,” she told the Yale Daily News, in a joint interview with her husband. “But I don’t send him to the grocery store. He does what I think most smart men do - he makes our coffee.”

Jeffrey Garten is still in education and teaches at Yale’s School of Management as Dean Emeritus.

“If I were teaching this case at SOM (the Yale School of Management), I would say first of all it’s a validation that you have to follow your passion,” Jeffrey said about Ina.

photo credit: Ina’s Facebook page

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