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Ina and Jeffrey Garten Share the Secrets to Their 48-Year Marriage

Updated

Christopher Testani

Ina Garten went from housewife to White House nuclear policy analyst to culinary celebrity, and she’s had her husband Jeffrey by her side every step of the way.

“I think he’s like the husband we all want,” the Food Network star tells PEOPLE exclusively in this week’s issue, on newsstands Friday. “Totally supportive, adorable, smart, funny, and incredibly generous.” It’s a sentiment that Jeffrey echoes, saying he is “inspired by her all the time.”

The pair met as teenagers when she was visiting her older brother at Dartmouth College, where Jeffrey was also a student, and married five years later in 1968. Throughout their 48-year marriage, mutual support and admiration has been a constant — and perhaps the impetus for her success. “From the time we got married, I really was interested in cooking, but I had never cooked at all,” Ina says. “He encouraged it so much by just being so appreciative when I cooked, and that was really the beginning of my career.”

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In fact, in her latest cookbook, Cooking for Jeffrey, she credits him as perhaps the “first feminist” she ever knew — and as the one who encouraged her to have her own career at all. “I was watching TV at 11 o’clock in the morning and Jeffrey said, ‘You need to figure out what you want to do with your life’,” she recalls. “I was shocked. It was 1969 and I was married. That was what girls did.”

By the late ’70s, Garten was working as a nuclear policy analyst in the Jimmy Carter administration, but she was ready for a change. “I realized I was kind of growing up to be [Jeffrey], because his world was government and politics,” she says. “I came to him one night and I said, ‘It’s just not me. I want to do something more fun than this.'”

RELATED: Ina Garten on How Husband Jeffrey Cares For Her: ‘I Am Absolutely the Center of His Life’

When she saw a New York Times ad for a business for sale in Westhampton Beach, New York, she jumped on the opportunity to turn her love of cooking into a career, opening her signature specialty food store, Barefoot Contessa. “It was terrifying,” she admits. “While it wasn’t $50 billion government budgets, it was only $50, but it was my $50. My financial life was on the line and I loved that. I love to jump off the cliff and figure out how to fly on my way down.”

Again, she was astounded by the support she had from her husband. “It was just unbelievable that he was willing to invest every penny we had in something I’d never done before, and in a town we’d never been to. He’s just done that all the way.”

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Jeffrey, however, downplays his role in the move. “It was such a natural thing for her to do,” he says. “I certainly supported her, but it was really all her. I was so proud of her. Not everybody finds something that they’re so passionate about, but she clearly had.”

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Though they are apart during the week — Jeffrey is the Dean of the Yale Business School in New Haven, Connecticut, while Ina works on her many business endeavors from their home in East Hampton, New York — the pair maintains their relationship by staying in constant contact. “We’re always connected, texting and calling each other,” she says, adding that their weekends together are “sacrosanct.”

“No matter where he is, I always know that there’s nothing more important than me in his life,” she says. “We give each other enormous freedom to do what we want to do, but we’re still the anchor.”

For more on Ina and Jeffrey Garten’s love story and exclusive recipes from Cooking for Jeffrey, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.