Though she's now on her 24th season, the Barefoot Contessa was more than skeptical in the beginning.
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Credit: Christopher Testani

Though Ina Garten is now on her 24th season of her hit Food Network show Barefoot Contessa, she was more than skeptical about the endeavor at first.

“In the beginning, I just thought ‘I’m not that person,'” Garten, who is featured in the latest issue of PEOPLE, says. “Why would anyone want to watch me on TV? I couldn’t understand what I could do that was different; that was unique.”

The cable network, however, saw her star power. “They kept saying, ‘No, you’d be really great,’ and I’m like ‘Lose my phone number,'” she laughs. “Fortunately, they kept coming back. And of course, here we are, 15 years later. I’m still with the same production company and still on Food Network. Despite myself.”

Before agreeing to her own series, she made regular appearances on Martha Stewart’s show, from whom Garten got a lesson in being camera-ready. “She’s so confident and so good at what she does that I just kind of took my cues from her,” she says. “I think I took my confidence from her confidence.”


Though in regard to her popularity she admits she’s “just never gotten it,” she does understand that part of her appeal is her authenticity. “I think the key to a brand is that you don’t start out to build a brand,” she says. “You do what’s feels right to you and you just keep sticking to that.”

“A lot of young people ask me, ‘How do I get a show on Food Network?'” she continues. “The answer is that you work your way up by learning the basics. You hone your craft carefully because you love it. You have to know your stuff first.”

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No one can vouch for her dedication to her craft better than her husband, Jeffrey — the subject of her latest cookbook, Cooking for Jeffrey. “People don’t see how much hard work goes into her cooking,” he says. “She’ll test every recipe 20 or 30 times and leaves absolutely nothing to chance. There are a lot of people who end up very famous who got there by luck or some shortcut, but there was nothing at all serendipitous about Ina’s success.”

Despite her popularity, celebrity status was never the goal for Garten. “Being famous isn’t something that’s important to me,” she says. “What’s important to me is that I get to get up every morning and get to do exactly what I love to do with people that I love to be with.”