Friday, January 18, 2008
Loving and Hating Williams-Sonoma
Stanford Shopping Mall, Palo Alto, California: We walk into the store, our eyes suddenly dancing and darting as we take it all in: shelves piled high with chef's blades, delicate wire whisks, heat-proof mixing bowls. And then our glance alights on the belle of the baking ball: the artisan copper-plated KitchenAid stand-mixer (oh baby), gleaming in all of its glory and reflecting the soft lighting of the store. It almost hurts to look. Almost.
We're in Williams-Sonoma. We saunter past the ceiling-high shelf of trendy cookbooks. Say a quick "hello" to Nigella, Jamie, and Mario. We drift dreamily past the flamboyant crew of salespeople, who whisper sweet nothings into the ears of their co-workers via pop-star style headsets: "a Wusthof set, please," or "I'll need a Le Creuset dutch oven at the sales counter for pick-up."
We're sidetracked by flatware, peelers, juicers, heart-shaped baking tins, fluted tart pans with removeable bottoms. We have no idea what the hell we even came in here for, but we don't care.
I'm sure you've felt the same rush as you walk into Williams-Sonoma, too. How could you feel anything else? For food dorks like me, Williams-Sonoma is like Disneyworld. Or sex. When you're in there, transfixed by the array of gleaming, stainless steel merchandise, it's just too easy to look past the ridiculousness of it all; the over-the-top glut of kitchen gear, the gaggle of jarred sauces and marinades, the Barefoot Contessa baking mixes (1st step: get out your double boiler!).
For real enlightenment, you need the catalog, which unfortunately doesn't exude the magical aura of the store. Jonathan receieved the January 2008 catalog a few days ago, and this morning, while making some oatmeal in an utterly unremarkable Ikea saucepan, I stole a look. All-Clad (p. 54): nice. Le Creuset (p. 56): very nice. Hand-cranked nut chopper (p. 30): are you kidding me?
Who, exactly, do they think wants a stupid, one-purpose nut-chopper cluttering up their kitchen? Or how about the filled-pancake pan (p. 11)? Not that I wouldn't use that all the time. And there's the frittata pan (p. 15), which, for a mere $135, allows you to forego the horrendously difficult step of sticking your frittata under the broiler for 1 minute. The list, of course goes on: flexible finger guard, vegetable grip, stainless steel rolling mincer...
Yes, it's true, Williams-Sonoma is a fraud. It isn't the serious chef's innocent guardian angel, but rather a raging cookware demon, taking advantage of the poor rubes who think it's worthwhile to shell out $40 for some frozen cinnamon buns that you can bake at home in your own oven.
I will say that in addition to all of the crap, Williams-Sonoma does sell some nice things. There are some kitchen gadgets - good paring knives, graters, immersion blenders - that add plenty of value to the kitchen. It's just too bad that they have to waste so much space in their catalog with all of the junky stuff aimed at bored housewives in McMansion-sized kitchens with too much time and not enough common sense for their own good. Oh, the humanity.
So there, Williams-Sonoma. You suck. But also, you're awesome. See you next time I'm at the Stanford Shopping Mall? Promise you'll have the headsets? Cool.