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Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa, talks food, love and feminism on her way to the Broward Center

Interview: "Barefoot Contessa" Ina Garten to talk about new cookbook at @BrowardCenter.

She has a long-running show on the Food Network, writes best-selling cookbooks and hosts fabulous dinner parties at her home in the Hamptons. But when Ina Garten went to the White House to film an episode of her Emmy-winning show with Michelle Obama earlier this month, it brought Garten back to a time when she wasn't known as the Barefoot Contessa.

In the 1970s, when she worked for the White House Office of Management and Budget, Garten was the Bored Nuclear Analyst.

"It just wasn't me," she says about her time writing reports on $20 billion weapons programs and nuclear energy policy. "Everything just moved too slowly in government."

So she began restoring and flipping houses in the Dupont Circle neighborhood of Washington, D.C., and used the proceeds for a dramatic career switch. In 1978, at age 30, Garten bought a small food and catering store in the wealthy summer resort town of Westhampton Beach, N.Y. The original owner named the store after a 1954 Humphrey Bogart-Ava Gardner movie, "The Barefoot Contessa."

"I thought it was a terrible name in the beginning, but I kept it, " Garten says in a recent telephone interview. "Then, I realized I liked it. It's kind of earthy and elegant."

For the record, she doesn't cook barefoot: "I wear slippers when I work — cashmere slippers."

The Cashmere Contessa? It has a nice ring, but she'll stick with what works. The Barefoot Contessa has become among the most powerful brand names in the culinary world, used for her television show, website and cookbooks, the latest of which — "Cooking for Jeffrey" — is being released this week . Next Thursday, Nov. 3, Garten will come to the Broward Center for the Performing Arts to talk about her unlikely career path and her 10th cookbook, named for her husband of 48 years, Jeffrey Garten, a renowned economist and former dean of the Yale School of Management.

"I never really cooked until I got married, and I loved it," she says.

She holds an MBA from George Washington University, but credits Jeffrey for pushing her toward her passion. In the book, she calls her husband "the first feminist I ever knew." Is that irony, a feminist who tells his doting wife to head for the kitchen?

"I never really thought about it that way," says Garten, 68, who met Jeffrey on a visit to Dartmouth when she was a high school student. "There was a generation of women who wanted to be men, but then it came back to we wanted to be women and decide what to do ourselves and incorporate what we love into our careers, our businesses."

The book blends personal vignettes, such as camping with Jeffrey in France as newlyweds, with suggested dinner-party menus and dozens of recipes, including one for chicken stock, which she includes in every book. "It makes such a big difference in everything," she says.

Garten, who had celebrities such as Steven Spielberg and Lauren Bacall as loyal customers and famed New York food-shop owner Eli Zabar as a mentor, became a best-selling author before she became a TV star. Her first cookbook pitch was accepted by the first publisher who saw it in 1999, after Garten sold her store and was trying to figure out what to do with the rest of her life at age 50. She launched the TV show on the Food Network in 2002, and it's still going strong after nearly 280 episodes, with new episodes airing Sundays at 10:30 a.m.

"Not for a minute did I think I'd write cookbooks or be on television," Garten says. "After I sold the store, Jeffrey said, 'You still love the food business, try doing it another way.' "

What's in store for her next act? Perhaps a restaurant?

"Never, never," she says. "I have undying respect for people like Jean-Georges [Vongerichten] and Danny Meyer, but I have no idea how they do it."

Garten doesn't see a South Florida retirement in her future. "I love cold weather," she says. "I tend to go north."

And she has more to do. "I'm enormously grateful because I have good people around me. I'm in the test kitchen [at her East Hampton, N.Y. home] with my staff every day. I just jotted down ideas for another 75 recipes," Garten says. "Jeffrey is still writing books, still serving on boards. We want to keep working until we're done, until they carry us out."

An onstage Q and A with Ina Garten, conducted by author Deborah Davis, will take place 8 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 3, at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, 201 SW Fifth Ave., in Fort Lauderdale. Tickets cost $37-65, plus fees. Call 954-462-0222 or go to BrowardCenter.org.

mmayo@southflorida.com, 954-356-4508. Follow my food adventures on Instagram: @mikemayoeats. Sign up for my weekly newsletter at SouthFlorida.com/EatBeatMail.

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