Cafe Society

Mouthing Off

Tools of the trade: Like those of most foodies, my kitchen drawers need to be opened with a certain amount of care and apprehension. An aggressive yank will only serve to intensify the orgy of kitchen gadgets under way inside. Oh, it's ugly: The lemon zester's mixed up with the melon baller, the French-fry cutter's in a menage a trois with the tomato corer and the butter curler, and I don't even want to know what the honey wand is doing with three sizes of garlic presses. There are gizmos in those drawers that I wouldn't use even if I knew how, and many that I don't use for their intended purposes--the combination nutcracker/can opener/lobster pick; the rusty olive pitter that's great for punching holes in paper; the meat mallet with which I whack the television when the reception gets fuzzy--but I love having them. If ever there is a Kitchen Gadgets Anonymous, I'm sure to be a candidate.

Thus it was with terror in his eyes that my husband watched me and a credit card walk out the door on our way to a neighborhood gathering hosted by the Pampered Chef. Like the Tupperware party of the Seventies, the Pampered Chef is, according to its promotional materials, "a premier direct-seller of high-quality kitchen tools...through in-home Kitchen Shows presented by a sales force of Kitchen Consultants." In other words, it's friends selling to friends under the pretext of a friendly get-together.

The company was founded in 1980 by Doris Christopher, a home economist from Illinois who hit upon the ingenious moneymaking idea that if you get a group of women together, ply them with free food and parade a bunch of kitchen gadgets past them, they'll open their purses faster than you can say "cheese slicer." I always like these things better drunk, so I was delighted to see beer at our local do, but several uptight maidens were not imbibing, which made those who were glance suspiciously at them through the whole thing. Our Kitchen Consultant was Deb Bailey, the co-worker of a neighbor, and since she's not one of us, she was regarded with some suspicion--particularly by me, because I know good kitchen gadgets when I see them. But she turned out to be sweet and sincere, breaking down in this gathering of catty women only once, when she admonished us for talking while she was talking.

Most of the products looked okay--pricey, if you ask me, but then, you're paying for a "sales force of Kitchen Consultants"--if a little too Martha Stewart-ish. For instance, at one point Bailey showed us a bread pan that would bake breads into lovely star configurations, then said, "And you can use the ends like a cookie cutter to turn your sandwiches into shapes," and I thought, "Yeah, right after I melt down my empty milk jugs into a serving tray and sponge-paint all my paper napkins." In the end, I ordered a vegetable peeler (since mine recently bit the dust), a cake-decorating set (a personal weakness) and a roll of parchment paper, which I can never find in nearby stores, for a grand total of $26.

Hey, I can quit any time.
See food, buy it: Speaking of pampering, I can't say enough good things about the seafood department at the Parker Safeway (11051 South Parker Road) and its manager, Carolyn Mason, who, with the help of Marge Lewis and Jackie Gaut, creates as appealing a display case of fresh specimens as I've seen anywhere (Marge also raises Nubian goats, but that's another story). I asked for fish Safeway usually doesn't carry--pompano, monkfish, you name it--and they found it, put a good price on it, and threw it back if it wasn't perfectly fresh. "I can't give you this," Mason said to me one day. "I don't like the way it smells."

This place blows the seafood department at the competing Parker King Soopers out of the water and puts other Safeways to shame. (Safeway's Littleton store always seems dirty; when I asked the guy behind the seafood counter at the Englewood outpost where the snapper came from, he answered, "The sea.") Someone needs to get these guys over to Parker to see how it should be done.

--Kyle Wagner