Ina Garten's First Trip To France Was Stunningly Humble

Roughing it isn't the first thing that comes to mind when we think of Ina Garten, but the Barefoot Contessa knows her way around a campground. The self-taught celebrity chef, known for inspiring accessibly elegant food and décor, also knows her way around Paris, a stop on the European adventure she and her longtime husband, Jeffrey, shared in 1971. The couple, married in 1968, per People, returns to the City of Light every year, as Insider confirms, but their annual visits bear little resemblance to their first experience.

"We got two tickets to Europe and brought a tent and all kinds of camping gear and a tiny camping gas stove because we literally had $5 a day," Garten explained of their initial visit on the "Dishing on Julia" podcast, via Food & Wine. That $5, according to Insider, had to cover gas, camping fees, and food. "We bought a car in Paris and spent four months camping in a Day-Glo orange tent that you couldn't stand up in," Garten told MSNBC's Willie Geist in 2021. "You had to get out of the tent to put your blue jeans on. I don't know what the other campers saw."

While Garten has long since earned celebrity for her creative and approachable recipes (she even extols the virtues of occasionally incorporating store-bought ingredients into her entertaining menus), as a newlywed, she had no idea how to turn out edible meals on a portable gas stove at a campground in France. But that all changed on a fateful day in Normandy, per Insider.

My, how things have changed

According to Insider, as the young couple set up camp at a site in Normandy, the property owner offered them leftovers from a meal she had just prepared — a pot of coq au vin, an aromatic stew made with wine-braised chicken 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.'" And the rest, as they say, is history.

That one meal may have changed the trajectory of Garten's life. Upon her return home, she picked up a copy of Julie Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" and set about learning to cook. Seven years later, she quit her staid job as a White House budget analyst and entered the food retail business, buying a specialty food store Barefoot Contessa in East Hampton, New York (via Forbes) and proceeding to write a number of cookbooks and star in a series of television shows. 

Fast-forward 50-plus years from that 1971 camping trip and the Gartens still love France. But these days, they travel in style. 

During a visit to Paris in 2022, Garten shared an Instagram post about how times have changed. "Now my favorite bakery is a block from our apartment and I go there all the time. If someone had told me then how things would turn out, I simply wouldn't have believed it. Frankly, there are still moments when I don't believe it!" she shared.