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« Faux Foie: a Sumptuous Super Bowl Spread on a Pauper’s Budget | Main | Brown Bagging? Try a New Take on Tuna »
Monday
Jan242011

Good Cooks Need the Right Tools

Chef Mary Moore, Founder & CEO of Cook's Warehouse

By Sandy Hu

A carbon steel crepe pan changed Atlanta chef Mary Moore’s life.

“I was in New York cooking at theGreenmarket with Scott Peacock.  We were making crepes with fresh apples,” Mary recalled. “We had forgotten our crepe pan so went all over the city looking for one, and surprisingly, we couldn’t find any at all the bigger stores. Scott said, ‘I know the store that will have one.’  He took us to Bridge Kitchenware. They had it – and thousands of other cool culinary tools.  And I said, ‘One day, I’m going to have a store like this!’”

Mary opened her first Cook’s Warehouse in 1995. Today, as founder and CEO, she has three stores in Atlanta, Ga., in Midtown, Brookhaven and Decatur.  She also has an online store, mail order catalogue and cooking school with more than 600 classes taught yearly in four kitchens on her premises. Mary’s phenomenal success earned her recognition in 2010 as a Top 50 Retailer from Gourmet Retailer Magazine.

With stock of over 15,000 items for the aspiring cook to professional chef, what are the most important tools every cook needs?  Here’s Mary’s advice for Special Fork cooks:

  • Good knives – a chef’s knife, bread knife and paring knife are essential, plus a sharpening steel to sharpen knives or a local resource to do the sharpening for you.
  • The right cutting board – wood; pressed wood like Epicurian, which is dishwasher safe; or one made of polyethylene are good choices. Avoid plastic, glass or other hard surfaces; these boards will dull your knife with every stroke.
  • Good cookware – “When people say they can’t cook – they burn everything, it’s because they’re not using proper cookware,” Mary explained. “You need cookware of a heavy enough gauge to distribute heat evenly with no hot spots. Talk to someone who knows how to cook and understands cookware. Or buy from an independent or specialty retailer, where knowledgeable sales staff can give you guidance.”
  • Mixing bowls – preferably glass, stainless steel or ceramic, a material that is non-reactive and non-absorbing.  Plastic holds odors and aluminum will react to acids and can change the taste of the food.
  • Good whisks – a balloon whisk for aerating egg whites, whipped cream and other light ingredients and a heavier whisk for thicker batters.
  • Tongs, spoons and spatulas – for spatulas, look for high-heat-resistant silicone. You need one flat spatula and a spoonula – spatula-spoon combination.
  • Slotted spoon, solid spoon, ladle, turner, flexible fish turner and a perforated spatula for steaks and burgers.
  • Meat thermometer – ideally one with a probe that is inserted in the meat, with a cord that goes out of the oven to a digital console to read the temperature (no need to open the oven to take a reading, which lets heat escape).  Or a good instant reader thermometer.

What’s all the rage in cookware today?  At the Cook’s Warehouse, hot sellers are the Sous Vide Supreme for sous vide cooking (low heat, water bath cooking to preserve the succulence in foods) and pressure cookers.  Canners or bigger stock pots for home canning are also selling well. “People are canning like crazy,” Mary noted.  Other popular items are Le Creuset and Staub enameled cast iron cookware.

Tools to aerate wine are hot.  The two biggest are Vinturi and VinOair.  “People understand that if you aerate the wine, it will taste better – you can enjoy a less expensive bottle of wine,” Mary explained.

Cook’s Warehouse’s number one selling item last year was Soda Stream, designed to let you make your own carbonated beverages at home.  “It’s very green because you’re not buying bottles and cans – you use reusable liters.  It’s less expensive (20 cents a liter), and more environmentally friendly – you can recycle the CO2 cartridges.  You can create your own artisan sodas – like basil lemon grass sodas,” Mary said.

Cooks Warehouse is riding the popularity of cooking.  “Food is just such a hot trend,” Mary said. “With the Food Network and Bravo, people are watching and engaging in cooking shows.  Due to the economic downturn, people are staying home more and entertaining more.  Also, people care about what they are consuming.  The only way to control what you eat is to make it yourself.”

Mary still sells a no-frills, traditional carbon steel crepe pan like the kind that she sought so desperately in New York.  She strives to be the store that has everything a cook needs.  As Mary reflects, “I want to be the culinary resource and educator in Atlanta.  I want to teach people how to cook and sell people great tools that work.”

Follow Mary on Twitter and Facebook.  And try Mary’s easy appetizer recipes below.

Stuffed Baked Brie

Equipment: jellyroll pan, Silpat nonstick baking sheet liner, 10-inch sauté pan, measuring cups, 8-inch chef’s knife, 10-inch bread knife or slicer, mixing bowl, ovenproof serving platter, high heat resistant spatula, pastry brush

1 cup dried apricots, diced
1/2 cup brandy
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 small red onion, diced
1 small red bell pepper, diced
3/4 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup white wine
1 bunch fresh basil, chiffonade (cut in thin strips)
1 brie (8 to 9 inches)

  1. Plump apricots in brandy at least 4 hours, overnight is best.
  2. Heat olive oil in sauté pan, add onion and sauté until translucent.
  3. Add red bell pepper, apricots and pecans; cook until peppers are tender.
  4. Add white wine and cook another 2 minutes, remove from heat and let cool.
  5. When cool, add ¾ of the basil.  Gently toss until well mixed.
  6. Cut brie in half lengthwise and stuff with most of filling, reserving some for garnish.
  7. Place brie on sheet pan and heat at 350°F for 5 minutes or until soft, remove from oven and garnish with remaining basil.  Serve immediately with pita crisps, crusty bread, crackers or toast points.

Recipe from Cook’s Warehouse.

Herbed Pita Crisps

1 pack pita bread
1 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon garlic, minced
1 tablespoon dried basil
Salt and pepper to taste

  1. Cut each pita bread into 8 wedges.  Combine remaining ingredients.
  2. Spread pita out on a baking sheet; baste with herb mixture.
  3. Bake at 350°F for 5 to 10 minutes or until lightly browned and crispy.

Recipe from Cook’s Warehouse.

Special Fork bloggers blog Monday through Friday. For more recipes and ideas on your smartphone, check us out at www.specialfork.com. Join the conversation on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @specialforksndy.

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