Skip to content

Ina Garten Says She Never Wanted Her Own Cooking Show: "For Years I Said No"

Barefoot Contessa is now about to celebrate its 20th anniversary.

Barefoot Contessa has been airing on Food Network for nearly 20 years. But, back in 2002, star Ina Garten was very against the idea of appearing on TV. As reported by Insider, while speaking at a recent event, Garten said she never wanted a cooking show and tried repeatedly to get Food Network to leave her alone about the idea. Obviously, she gave in eventually, and Barefoot Contessa is now the longest-running daytime show on the channel. Read on to see why Garten initially declined the offer and how she feels about TV stardom now.

RELATED: The 30 Most Successful Reality TV Personalities of the Last 30 Years.

She didn't think a cooking show was the right fit for her.

Ina Garten at the premiere of "Mary Poppins Returns" in 2018
Kathy Hutchins /

While appearing at an author luncheon for the Shelter Island Public Library, Garten was interviewed by MSNBC anchor Willie Geist about her career, including how she landed her beloved Food Network show.

"For years I said no, and they kept coming back with a better offer," Garten said, as reported by Insider. She even told the network "lose my number" when they repeatedly contacted her. "I said, 'I'm not negotiating, I just don't think I can do this.'" The network executives were surprised by her response. "They said, 'People send us hams to even get an appointment to try and get a show.'" 

Lucky for foodie fans, she changed her mind.

Ina Garten at the 2015 Forbes Women's Summit: Transforming The Rules Of Engagement
Daniel Zuchnik/WireImage via Getty Images

Garten agreed to do the show eventually, and next November, she will celebrate its 20th anniversary. "Twenty years, it's amazing," she told Geist. "I'm really delighted, I just can't understand it." 

For the show, Garten has won three Daytime Emmy Awards. In 2009 and 2010 she won for Outstanding Lifestyle/Culinary Host, and in 2015 she got the award for Outstanding Culinary Program.

For more celebrity news delivered right to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.

She looked up to another TV cook and host.

Martha Stewart at the BottleRock Napa Valley Music and Food Festival in 2017
Sterling Munksgard /

Garten previously commented on her apprehension about doing a show in a 2016 interview with People. "In the beginning, I just thought 'I'm not that person. Why would anyone want to watch me on TV?' I couldn't understand what I could do that was different; that was unique."

Before getting her own show, Garten made some appearances on Martha Stewart's show, and she credits Stewart for teaching her to feel more comfortable on screen. "She's so confident and so good at what she does that I just kind of took my cues from her," Garten told People. "I think I took my confidence from her confidence."

Barefoot Contessa was a store first.

Ina Garten hosting "Barefoot Contessa"
Food Network / YouTube

After quitting a job working in the White House and moving to New York, Garten bought a specialty food store already called Barefoot Contessa in 1978. She ran it for 20 years before selling it and writing her first cookbook, 1999's The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook. "I was like, 'I really want to do something challenging now,'" she told Geist. "I took a year off, built myself an office over the store, and went there every day trying to figure out what to do."

She wrote a cookbook proposal that included recipes from her store and sent it to publishers. It was quickly accepted.

"I was like, 'Oh s***, now I have to write a book,'" she said during the talk. "I love that people are learning how to cook and inviting people over for dinner. It's about community. I love that part of what I do now."

RELATED: 14 Celebrities Who Didn't Become Famous Until After 50.

Lia Beck
Lia Beck is a writer living in Richmond, Virginia. In addition to Best Life, she has written for Refinery29, Bustle, Hello Giggles, InStyle, and more. Read more
Filed Under