Thursday, November 02, 2006

Culinary Legacies: Chuck Williams

Williams-Sonoma Archives

Chuck Williams is the pioneer who brought European cookware, equipment and ingredients to America, everything from copper pans to Sabatier knives to Cuisinart food processors to balsamic vinegar. He is now in his early 90's so it was a treat to hear him along with Jacqueline Mallorca and Flo Braker in conversation this past week. The program was one in a series called "Stirring the Pot" put on by the San Francisco Professional Food Society.

When I think of the store he founded, Williams-Sonoma, a few things come to mind. The store epitomizes high quality, a high level of service and to be fair, high prices. So when store founder Chuck, along with friends Flo and Jacqueline shared their memories of "the early days", these three anecdotes most caught my attention.

On Quality:

During a photo shoot, a certain shot of a pie needed to be retaken to show off the pan in a better light. Chuck sliced into the pie, took a bite and exclaimed "We can't shoot this, it doesn't taste right!"

On Prices:

A woman came into the store and asked to see a souffle pan. Upon seeing the price she said, "That seems like a lot of money and besides I don't even know if I'll like souffle" to which Chuck replied "Well, you don't have to buy a souffle pan, a dog dish should do fine". Needless to say, she bought the pan.

On Service:

Back when the flagship store was just up the block from the Elizabeth Arden Red Door Salon on Sutter, Chuck used to bring his German Shepard in to the store and the dog would stay behind the front counter. When women going to the salon would realize they had no place to leave their pets, they would drop them off at the store to hang out with Chuck's dog. And you thought only Nordstrom was known for that kind of thing...!