You purchased Cooks’ World after working there for several years. What inspired you to take on this venture?
I would have to say there were many things that contributed to inspiring me to take on this adventure. First and foremost was the former owner, Chris Wiedemer. When I started at Cooks’ World over 26 years ago, I was right out of college and had very little work experience. However, I had a passion for cooking and baking, and Chris took a chance on me. He has always been and continues to be a wonderful friend and mentor. Cooks’ World very quickly became my home away from home, and I was able to build many great relationships with our wonderful staff and amazing customers, many who have been shopping at Cooks’ World as long as I have been here. I started moving up the ranks pretty fast, from assistant manager and then eventually to general manager. Chris and I made a great team, so when he started to think about retiring, he approached me to see if I was interested. The rest is history.
What kind of person are you in the kitchen: the cook, the baker, or the bartender?
I do love to cook, but my true passion is baking. I love the creativity that comes with baking. And I love to give away what I bake. It’s the best when someone says, “Oh, I loved that!” about something I baked for them.
Do you have any go-to dishes or recipes? Are there any fall dishes you look forward to making this time of year?
I love fall comfort foods — my favorite would probably be lasagna. I make that often. I also love making ratatouille with fresh vegetables from the garden. I make a really good lemon butter chicken, and I love to share that recipe because it’s so simple but really delicious! I also love making soups and stews and all those wonderful comfort foods that simmer in a Dutch oven all day. As for baking recipes, I make a really good chocolate dulce de leche cake that people seem to really love. My favorite desserts are my Kahlua Tiramisu and crème brûlée.
What is a must-have item you recommend everyone stock in their kitchen?
My must-have item would have to be a good-quality knife, one that is a good fit for the person using it. I can’t stress that enough, because if you don’t have good knives, everything you do in the kitchen is going to be harder than it should be. You can’t go wrong with a knife from brands like Cangshan, Zwilling, Wüsthof or Shun. But what is most critical is to put them in your hands and feel them. A knife should be an extension of your hand. If it feels too light or the handle is too thick, for example, then it is not the right one for you. The main knives anyone would want to have in their cutlery assortment are a chef’s knife or a Santoku for most tasks, a paring knife for small jobs and a serrated knife for bread, tomatoes, citrus fruits, etc. It’s is so important to come to the store, ask lots of questions and try different kinds of knives so you can find the one that fits you best. It will have the right feel, the right weight and the right balance.
What is a splurge kitchen item that is worth the investment?
I’ve thought about this a lot and have a few really good splurge ideas. I really recommend an Ankarsrum mixer. It’s a little bit different because the bowl moves instead of the top attachment. You’ll never want to use another mixer. Customers can have sticker shock, because they run around $750, but it’s worth every penny.
Also a Vitamix blender. They can make juices, smoothies, sauces, you name it. You can throw a bunch of fruit in there without even peeling it, and it will come out super smooth. You can even use it to cook soup. You blend all your vegetables and the friction from the mixer is warm, so it will actually cook your soup as you’re making it.
For cookware, I highly recommend Hestan, Le Creuset and Staub. They are beautiful pieces that can last a lifetime. These are an investment, but they are heirloom pieces. We hear lots of great stories of people who have received pieces from their mother or even grandmother.
I also absolutely love my Jura coffee maker. It can make any kind of coffee you want, whether it’s regular coffee, cappuccino or espresso, and it grinds the beans for you. The J8, for example, can make up to 31 different specialty coffee drinks to perfection. It’s expensive — they can run from $1,200 to $6,000 — but if you normally go to Starbucks every day, it could pay for itself in a year.
With holiday shopping right around the corner, what are some great gift ideas customers can find at Cooks’ World?
People love to give pretty or unique gifts, right? We carry lots of beautiful Portuguese pottery from companies like Casafina and Carmel Ceramics, as well as hand-painted Polish Pottery. We sell a lot of holiday linens and aprons. We have beautiful gift sets, like the ones from Stonewall Kitchen. They have a wild Maine blueberry set that has blueberry jam, blueberry syrup and blueberry pancake and waffle mix, all in a pretty boxed gift set.
Gift cards are also great. If you know someone who’s really into cooking, they always appreciate a gift card.
How about stocking stuffers — any fun small gadgets or essential tools we should know about?
We sell a lot of really fun gadgets and tools. My husband Jeff took over our social media, and when he posted an Ototo Nessie Ladle [a ladle made in the shape of the Loch Ness Monster], it got more comments than any of our other social media posts, so we knew we had to start carrying it. We sell an Ototo dog spoon holder and a crab spoon holder. So you might get someone a pot and think it’s boring, but you put a dog spoon holder on the side and now it’s a fun gift.
We also sell Dreamfarm products. Something really popular is the “Fluicer” — it’s a flat juicer. You put a lemon or whatever citrus fruit you are juicing in it and it completely flattens it and gets all the juice out, and it stores flat so it doesn’t take up much space. We also sell a terrific line of kids’ cooking utensils from Kuhn Rikon. There are knives and cute cutting boards for kids who are starting to help out in the kitchen. They’re not just plastic, they’re real knives, but they’re for beginners. They have a whole farm animal collection of different tools that are both functional and practical.
We love to support other local businesses. We carry spices from a few local companies, like Doug’s Rubs, Seneca Salts, and Stuart’s Spices. We also have a great line of scone mixes and jams from Fat Crow Gourmet, fabulous oils and vinegars from Kouzini, hot sauce from Karma Sauce, and a wonderful barbecue sauce from Jones Bones. So there are lots of ways to get an amazing gift while supporting our community.
What services do you offer that your community might not know about?
We offer bridal registries. We’ll take the couple on a tour of our whole store. Our store is U-shaped, so we start at one end and go through every item in the store. We let them hold the items and ask as many questions as they want — they’re going to be using them often, so we want to make sure they like how they feel. One thing I’ve found is that some people don’t know registry etiquette. They think they’re giving people options by registering at five or six different places for many similar items, but then they end up with six pot-and-pan sets and three knife sets, so they have to return a lot of stuff. We want to make sure they get everything from one place with many different categories and price points for their guests.
We do knife sharpening for chefs and the general public, with a knife sharpening rewards club. For every 10 knives you bring in to get sharpened, you get the 11th sharpened for free. It usually costs $4 or $5 per knife depending on the size of the knife. That’s similar to our Coffee Club — for every 10 pounds of coffee you buy, you get the 11th free.
We also have a loyalty program. Customers earn five cents for every dollar they spend in the store. So, five percent of everything they spend goes right back to them to use in the store. Those points can be used any time. They never expire. Sometimes I recommend saving up loyalty points for big items, especially the brands that don’t allow sales or coupons like All Clad. Some people use their loyalty points right away and others save them up. Customers will say, “Wow, I have $30? It’s like a gift card!”
What advice would you give to aspiring chefs who don’t know where to begin?
That’s a great question. I recommend coming in the store to really get a feel for things. You might be told to buy a certain brand of knives, and then when you come in and feel it, it doesn’t feel right to you. It might be too big or too light. You need to really feel the tools you’re going to be working with and make sure they’re right for you.
The other thing is to ask a lot of questions. That’s what we’re here for. We want to help you find what’s right for you.
I’d also recommend asking for gift cards, because you can come back and use the gift cards on whatever you want. We have lots of chefs that are just starting out, trying to build on their collection. They love getting gift cards!
It’s important to invest in high-quality tools. When customers have sticker shock, I try to explain that it’s better to buy a more expensive item once than to have to buy the $20 version of that product over and over again because it breaks or gets worn out.
Do you have any funny stories from your time in the kitchen?
My husband and I moved into our house on November 20th, and you know that’s a very busy time in retail, so we didn’t even unpack until January. We basically lived with one knife, one bowl and one pan for three months. One day he decided to make ramen noodles in my good nonstick All-Clad pan and stirred it with a metal fork. It was completely ruined. I got over it, sort of!
How do you keep customers coming back?
A lot of the things we sell, you can find online. But I train my staff to know the whole store. So it’s really all about customer service — that’s always been the difference. We have an amazing staff that have a true passion for cooking and will always go above and beyond for our customers.
A lot of local people in the industry shop here — chefs, caterers, bakers. They’ll come in and get what they need because they know we have good-quality items. We also offer a professional discount to help them make sure they get all the tools that they need.
We also have specials going on twice a week: one small item and one large item. We often have something like a fun gadget during the week and something larger like a cookware or cutlery special for the weekend. Either way, they’re always really good deals. During the holidays, we have a special every day starting on November 1 through Christmas. That brings a lot of customers back. They love that they can get a lot of their holiday gifts at a terrific price.
Again, it all comes back to customer service. It means more to us to gain a customer than to make a sale. We really listen to our customers and their needs. We always try to be very respectful of their budget and make sure to recommend great options that are within their price range. Also, we try to educate our customers so they understand the proper use and care of each product, ensuring that they will be happy with it for years to come. We don’t have quotas or sales goals. We just want to help our customers find what’s going to work for them. Our customers always know they can trust us to get them what they need, or to help them find it when we can’t.
Our staff always goes the extra mile, even if that means going out in the pouring rain or snow to help carry out a heavy bag for someone, or individually giftwrapping five cookie cutters for a special Mother’s Day present. Our customers are part of our family, and we always treat them as such!