Why Is Ina Garten Called The Barefoot Contessa?

Calling celebrities by their nicknames is one of the great American pastimes (we're looking at you, Timothée Chardonnay). In the food world, no gastronome boasts a moniker quite as iconic as Ina Garten, affectionately known as Barefoot Contessa. The home-cooking expert and party host extraordinaire is not, technically speaking, an actual contessa — that would suggest her beloved husband Jeffrey is an earl or count. And while she may forgo shoes while strolling along the beaches near her East Hampton home, she's not perennially barefoot.

As anyone familiar with Garten's life story will know, she shares the name with that of the Westhampton Beach specialty food store she ran after her stint as a White House budget analyst and before becoming a TV host. In the mid-1990s, it would also become the name of her publishing debut, "The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook." As for how she came up with the name in the first place, full credit goes to the 1954 Hollywood classic of the same name starring Ava Gardner and Humphrey Bogart. "For me, it means being both elegant and earthy," Garten wrote on her blog in 2018. 

Store-bought is fine

Ina Garten's store has been closed for two decades, but fans can get a sense of it from the 1997 rom-com "As Good As It Gets," a scene from which features Diane Keaton roaming its floors while she practices her French. Writer-director Nancy Meyers would later use the store as inspiration for "Something's Gotta Give," another charming Keaton vehicle set in the Hamptons. "I bought chicken salad and a cupcake and ate them both on a bench outside the store," Meyers told Bon Appetit. "They were just as amazing as I had imagined."

Off-screen, Barefoot Contessa was just as idyllic. In 2021, Garten shared a photo of the shop's exterior in honor of its 43rd anniversary. "The first day in the store, we grossed $87 (before expenses!), and we thought it was a disaster," she recalled. "But Friday was Memorial Day weekend (in the Hamptons!), and it turned out to be a very different story. We stayed up cooking and baking all night, and I remember thinking how happy I was!!" 

Judging from the comments, Garten wasn't the only one for whom the store was a source of joy. "OMG it was the only place to go to cure Sunday morning hangovers," one person wrote. "1978 — tuna salad on rye [with] a big chocolate chip cookie." 

You can take the contessa out of the shop...

Ina Garten's days behind the counter at The Barefoot Contessa may be over, but she remains a loyal patron of specialty food shops around the world. In the Hamptons, you might find her at Loaves & Fishes, a screen-doored haven of open-faced sandwiches, gourmet baked goods, and all manner of indulgent sundries. 

Meanwhile, on one of her frequent trips to Paris, you might catch her whiffing the fine fromage at Barthélémy, the cheese shop that delivers to French presidents. On Instagram, Garten called it "my favorite cheese shop in the world" — no small compliment from a virtuoso of elaborate cheese platters. 

Finally, as Garten mentions in her cookbook "Cook Like a Pro," a trip to Milan is incomplete without a stop at Peck's. In addition to its extensive selection of cheeses, cured meats, wine, and fresh pasta — the four main Italian food groups — she praises its warm marinated and roasted olives. It all goes to show: You can take the Barefoot Contessa out of the shop, but you can't take the shop out of the Barefoot Contessa.