i like cookin’
There is a store down the street from my apartment that I recently discovered. I have walked by it approximately 600 billion times but had never checked it out until last Friday. It’s called Cookin’ and it’s a used kitchenware shop owned by a peculiar, although spectacular, woman named Judith Kaminsky.
In operation for over 25 years, she clearly is doing something right but apparently has received mixed reviews from customers about her inventory and peculiar approach to customer service. This article describes a bit about what you’ll encounter at her shop and this article goes on further to describe her mixed reviews. When I showed up to her store, I got a firsthand glimpse of her curious idiosyncrasies, but left her company a believer.
As I walked through the shop, all I could think about was 1) how excited I was to finally be there, and 2) the show Hoarders. She has piles and piles of inventory, mostly organized, covering every square inch of the floor except for the narrow corridor she wishes you to walk. Piles of books, towers of glass cake pedestals, stacks of old enamel dutch ovens, and layers of copper cookware protrude from every corner and surface. She really has an impressive amount of inventory, and high quality inventory at that. I overhear her chatting to someone who appears to be another neighborhood business owner about bike lanes and parking spaces.
As soon as he leaves, her attention drifts toward me. Now she wants to talk to me about the bike lanes, so being new to the area and a bike rider myself, I listen. Then she wants to show me the handicapped parking spaces outside her shop that are allegedly being used illegally by non-handicapped people. “People that buy cast iron come here in cars, not on bikes,” she tells me. I silently disagree as I have been car-less for many, many years and wouldn’t bat an eye at carrying some cast iron in a pannier, but perhaps I am the minority.
She keeps talking about the bike lanes, and the foot traffic, and the truck traffic, and the one-ways. I acknowledge her words at appropriate intervals, hoping that my facial expression doesn’t give my total cluelessness away. After five minutes I realize that she will continue talking to me about whatever suits her even if I am not acknowledging her so I quit trying. We move on to talking about her customer base, then she walks me through her trials and tribulations making a gingerbread recipe from the Tartine Cookbook, then she tells me that she is good friends with David Lebovitz, THE David Lebovitz. This is a game changer.
I start paying closer attention again, start making my acknowledgement noises once more, and decide that I must befriend this cranky old woman. I tell her I am a pastry chef and a baker and her demeanor warms from ice cold to just cold. I tell her I follow David’s Instagram and blog and think he is great. Then, with zero hesitation she says “Why do you like David so much?” immediately making me insecure in my admiration of Mr. Lebovitz. I tell her I like him because he is a pastry chef and I think it’s quite brave to move out the country. She abruptly changes the subject. She tells me her friend makes the best macarons she has ever had. Then she tells me to join The Bakers Dozen, a non-profit devoted to baking professionals and enthusiasts. I feel like I am barely winning her over and then thank her for the suggestion.
Then I meet her golden Lhasa named Tank and give him a pet. I tell her he is cute.
Customers come and go. Some apologize for interrupting but need help finding something in Kaminsky’s chaotic maze of equipment. She jumps to help them, asking what they are making, baking, or using this or that for. She lets them know if she approves or how to do it better, otherwise known as how she would do it. Some people smile politely, clearly hoping to just get out the door as quickly as possible. Others engage, bouncing their culinary ideas off of her hard exterior shell. It becomes clear that those are the types of customers she likes and perhaps why she started her business in the first place.
I immediately realize if I don’t create a segue to remove myself from another conversation, she will talk to me until she closes her shop in three hours. I tell her I am going to go home to sign up for The Baker’s Dozen and that I will most likely see her again soon since I live around here now. She tells me I should go to the Divisadero Merchants Association meeting so I can get in on addressing the new bike lanes. I tell her I will try to make it knowing full well that I won’t attend seeing as how I am not a Divisadero merchant or in the association and therefore won’t be welcome. I still don’t mention that I ride a bike. She waves goodbye and I head toward the door. Exiting, I squint as my eyes readjust to the beautiful sunny day I have been absent from for an entire hour. As I walk the four minutes back to my apartment, I decide I will bake something next week. Probably something I may not have all the equipment for and might need to acquire secondhand, probably somewhere close by…