Ina Garten Recalls How One Meal on a Camping Trip with Jeffrey Inspired Her to Learn to Cook

Ina Garten fell in love with food in 1971 while on a four-month camping trip in France with her husband

Ina & Jeffrey kiss
Jeffrey and Ina Garten. Photo: COURTESY INA GARTEN

We should all be grateful to coq au vin for giving us Ina Garten.

While on a four-month camping trip with her husband, Jeffrey, Ina tried the classic French stew and says that is what motivated her to learn to cook.

Ina explained the details of the camping trip to MSNBC host Willie Geist during a virtual author luncheon benefiting Shelter Island Public Library, according to Insider. After Jeffrey had been stationed with the Army in Thailand for a year, the couple purchased $99 round-trip student tickets to Paris in 1971 (three years after they tied the knot). While on the trip, the pair only spent $5 each day, which they primarily used for gas, the car and camping fees.

"We bought a car in Paris and spent four months camping in a Day-Glo orange tent that you couldn't stand up in," she said. "You had to get out of the tent to put your blue jeans on. I don't know what the other campers saw."

While the couple was in Normandy, the campsite owner offered Ina and Jeffrey some of the meal they had made. The dish was coq au vin, a chicken dish often cooked with wine and mushrooms.

"I heated it up on my little camping gas stove and I thought, 'this is the most delicious thing I've ever eaten in my life. I need to know how to make this,'" said Ina.

When the couple finally returned home, Ina used Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking to learn how to cook. "I'm endlessly grateful for her," she says of Childs.

In 2016, Ina spoke to PEOPLE about her former Westhampton Beach, New York store and how, prior to being a store owner, she was working in the White House Office of Management and Budget. When Garten saw a New York Times ad for a business for sale in the beach town, she jumped at the opportunity to open the signature specialty food store.

Years after returning from that pivotal camping trip, Ina opened the shop named Barefoot Contessa. Then, she wrote her first cookbook in 1999 and her Food Network show with the same name premiered two years later.

Despite the celebrity chef's busy life, Ina and Jeffrey still travel to Paris every year to celebrate their anniversary.

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