Prevailing wisdom says great dishes begin with great ingredients. And while that's certainly true, kick-ass cooks and the rare birds who have the Martha Stewart gene for entertaining couldn't do what they do half as well -- or at least not half as easily -- without the proper tools and equipment. Cool-looking plates and serving pieces don't hurt either.
So we offer here 11 great stores and shops -- some corporate, some indie -- that cater to home cooks, professionals and people who just like to throw a good party.
It's easy to kill an hour in this cute little shop and hands-on cooking school, crammed with everything from tongs, whisks, Wüsthof knives and Le Creuset cookware to fondue sets, soup tureens, panini presses, and paella pans. The place smells like coffee when you walk in the door because coffee beans are sold here, too, as are teas, locally made salsas and crackers, fancy vinegars, and so much more. SB may be the only place in town to find local ceramicist Lisa Howe's oven-proof, dishwasher-safe stoneware, but it's also a quick pit stop for a ready-made gift basket (they'll customize them if you have more time), a quirky set of animal print coasters or a pretty apron. You'll find everything you need for cool cocktails (including whimsical, hand-painted martini glasses and little umbrellas), and there's a kiddie section to foster the budding cook. Shop for regular cookbooks near the back of the store or do a good deed and buy a gently used cookbook (you'll find at least two or three gems guaranteed), knowing the proceeds of your sale will go to St. Mary's Food Bank.
If you're a bargain hunter, don't overlook these value-priced, corporate stores, the majority of them located in outlet malls around the country. At the moment, Kitchen Collection can be found in Anthem, Chandler and Mesa, but it's also coming to Glendale in the fall. The store carries cookware, bake-ware, small appliances, cutlery, gadgets, dinnerware and pretty much anything else you can think of, including dish towels, compost keepers and utterly frivolous doodads. Need a child-safe hot dog slicer (shaped like a wiener dog, his doggie bowl holding the ketchup) or an ice cream scoop with a hollow handle to hold candy sprinkles? Of course, you do. You'll see name brands like Kitchen-Aid, Cuisinart, Pyrex and Wear Ever here, but you won't pay high prices because what you're getting is factory overstock, warehouse clearance, special purchase items and factory-refurbished small appliances.
You don't have to be a serious cook to appreciate this quirky kitchen store (also part gift shop) in Arrowhead Mall. You'll get a kick out of the goofy signs ("I'll have a chocolate mocha-vodka-valium-latte, please"), the hideous Elvis head cookie jar and the Day of the Dead-themed knickknacks. But there's plenty of helpful stuff for people who actually cook too, whether they be novice or pro. The store stocks oyster knives, heart-shaped pancake rings, tiny torches for crème brûlée and copper mugs for Moscow Mules, as well as absinthe spoons, which seem pretty geeky. Items have been thoughtfully grouped together, so if you're all about tea or pizza or shellfish, you'll find everything you need in one place.
Phoenix Knife House You'll see a steady stream of chefs coming in and out of this spare, neatly kept shop, owned by food nerd and knife whisperer Eytan Zias, who's forgotten more about weight, grip, blades and tangs than most of us will ever know. Zias carries 25 full lines, imported from small, high-quality knife-makers, including an array of Japanese brands unfamiliar to the average home cook. In fact, as knife collections go, PKH is ranked among the top three in the U.S. But don't let that scare you off. Zias loves to share what he knows about knives, and he'll steer you toward something comfortable -- for your hand and your wallet, offering sharpening and repair services to boot. Knife-sharpening classes (priced at $85 per person) sell out well in advance nearly every month, so be sharp yourself and call early.
Unless you're pulling a Duncan Hines box off the grocery store shelf, don't even think of baking a cake -- especially a spectacular one -- without hitting this start-to-finish cake-baking supply shop first. You'll find miles of aisles stocked with pans in every imaginable size and shape (including a D'backs baseball cap), pillars for tiered cakes, cupcake stands, glittery cake ribbon, cake toppers, rolling pins, cake filling and frosting, Fluid Flex, Sweetex and any other sparkly, colorful, edible stuff you might use to make your cake an over-the-top sensation. ABC even sells the boxes to tuck and transport them in, offering cake decorating classes for bakers who want to up their game.
Sure, chefs and restaurateurs come to this no-frills warehouse for fridges, ice-makers, china caps and cooking pots (sized to feed a small nation), but non-professionals are welcome to browse the cavernous place as well, stocked with loads of kitchen basics (whisks, colanders, mixing bowls), plain dinnerware and glass-ware at good prices. On any given day, something is on sale, but many things are simply priced right in the first place. Pay $1.95 for a plastic burger basket at a fancy shop or snag it here for 60 cents.
Sleek, industrial design elements lend this elegant, thoughtfully merchandised corporate store a serious tone, appealing to accomplished cooks with limitless budgets. Want the best coffee or espresso maker money can buy? Sur La Table probably stocks it -- as well as other fancy appliances, premium cookware, tools, bake-ware, cutlery (including a handful of top-notch Japanese brands), housewares, dinnerware, bar-ware, glass-ware and linens. And food. Did we mention food? Like alder-smoked sea salt from Alaska? It's all here -- a little cook's paradise, complemented by cooking classes in a swanky separate room. Not to worry if you don't drive a Mercedes. SLT runs plenty of good sales too.
Shar's is fully as much cooking school as gourmet cooking shop, routinely filling classes of 70 to 90 people. But there's plenty of cool stuff to browse and buy here, even if the huge space seems a bit sparsely stocked. This 20-year-old shop specializes in Bosch appliances but also carries food processors, canning supplies, gadgets (need a recipe divider or an egg cuber?) and cookware with a healthy bent, say, a Huron Slow Juicer, said to supply four times the vitamins of a high-speed juicer. Pressure cookers abound, as do pressure cooking classes for the uninitiated.
Like Sur La Table and Williams-Sonoma, Crate & Barrel (a furniture and home decor store with a serious kitchen component) has plenty of pricy, gourmet eye-candy. But the great thing about this cheery, gorgeously merchandised store is that it does a clever job of capturing the attention of young cooks. You know, people who might actually be decorating (not trashing) their apartments and entertaining beyond chips and dip for the very first time. Yes, the place is stocked with gadgets, cookware, cutlery and appliances galore (although certainly less than, say, Kitchen Connection), but what C&B does better than anyone else is create a mood, offering pretty vignettes of contemporary dinnerware, glass-ware and bar-ware to spark the customer's imagination. It's here you'll find Japanese serving pieces with chopsticks, not to mention a folding portable grill on which to cook your chicken teriyaki (out on the tiny balcony of your apartment, C&B is surely assuming). As is true at the other two high-end corporate stores, not everything is expensive, and plenty of items do go on sale. Some, on the other hand, are just plain cheaper. It's all about comparison shopping.
The motto at this high-end gourmet shop (with 15 locations in Canada but none in Sonoma) is "servng serious cooks since 1956." Like its counterpart Sur La Table, WS offers anything and everything the ambitious cook could ever want, featuring an extensive cutlery section, electrics by brands such as Breville and Cuisinart, Le Creuset, All-Clad and Calphalon cookware (to name a few), bake-ware, dinnerware, yadda yadda. If there's one thing WS offers more of than the other two fancy corporates, it's probably gourmet food, including fancy sauces, oils and vinegars and baking mixes (the latter from Thomas Keller no less). And if there's one thing seriously lacking at the Scottsdale Fashion Square store? Friendly customer service from the manager. No need to carry this snooty Sonoma thing too far.
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If you don't mind that your retro cocktail shaker, toaster oven or cast iron skillet has been "gently used," then this cool little consignment boutique is the place for you, offering everything from appliances, bake-ware, kitchen gadgets, serving platters, canister sets, cookbooks and wine glasses at bargain prices. On a good day, you might find a like-new Cuisinart yogurt and ice cream maker for $25, or a metal Nambé bowl for $49. And, of course, this also means you can bring in the great stuff you simply have no more use or room for and get 45% of its selling price. Kitchen Switchin -- a sweet deal all the way around.