She became a bestselling author by sharing advice about food and entertaining, but Ina Garten, a.k.a. the Barefoot Contessa, also knows a thing or two about finding your bliss. She and Jeffrey Garten will celebrate 51 years of marriage this winter. “We support each other,” Ina confided at the recent New Yorker festival. “He’s the most important thing in my life, and he makes me feel like I’m the most important thing in his life.”

A teenage Ina Rosenberg first met her future husband while visiting her older brother at Dartmouth College. “[Jeffrey] just made me feel good,” she recalls. “He’s smart, fun and the best company.”

Jeffrey was also incredibly patient as Ina searched for a satisfying career. In the early days of their marriage, she attended business school and even spent time working as a budget analyst at the White House during the Ford and Carter administrations. “I realized I was never going to be the head of that organization. I was really lucky to have sup- port, especially from Jeffrey [to follow my own path],” she explains.

Ina Garten and Jeffrey Garten at the 2015 TIME 100
Evan Agostini/Invision/AP/Shutterstock

She took a chance in 1978 by quitting her government job, moving to New York and buying a gourmet shop, The Barefoot Contessa. Despite Ina’s lack of formal culinary training, the Westhampton store became a success that led to cookbooks and a second career as a Food Network host. “We always set these longterm goals for ourselves, and they never turn out to be [what you expected],” says Ina, who’s hard at work on her 12th cookbook. “It always ends up more outrageously interesting.” She only wishes she hadn’t wasted time worrying. “Just do it,” she advises. “Try it. You can always change.”

As her career solidified, Jeffrey, who teaches at Yale, remained steadfast. “We don’t have kids, and I think that’s a big difference,” she admits. “When you have children, people have disagreements about how to bring them up. We just don’t have that.” Instead, this pair have always remained the center of each other’s universes. “I never cook for myself, I cook to take care of my husband,” Ina says. “He always inspires me to do greater things.”

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