Peter Van Allen Staff Writer
Two culinary retailers new to Philadelphia are serving up more than high-end cookware.
Viking Culinary Arts Center in Bryn Mawr and Sur la Table in Evesham, N.J., have both made the concept of retail interactive, offering chefs demonstrations and cooking classes that practically run an entire semester (no credit offered).
It may be inevitable that a public enamored with the Food Network, gourmet cooking and high-end cookware would come to this.
“It’s impressive. I’ve done other cooking classes, but I didn’t realize [Viking] has a kitchen better than some restaurant kitchens. They have a prep kitchen, plus an auditorium. And if you’re out in the showroom, you can watch the demonstration on a monitor,” said one of the store’s first guest chefs, Bruce Cooper, owner of Novelty in Old City and Jake’s in Manayunk.
His demonstration drew 100 people, including many of his patrons, who heard about Viking through its targeted direct-mailings.
Since opening on the Main Line in October, Viking has offered everything from free demonstrations to hands-on workshops costing $49 to $79 apiece. Eight-week courses range from $259 to $392.
At Sur la Table, which fittingly is in the Burlington County lifestyle mall Promenade at Sagemore, there is a 760-square-foot area devoted to cooking demonstrations. At the Seattle-based retailer’s 28 other stores, those demonstrations have been done by renowned chefs like Julia Child, Jacques Pepin, Alice Waters and Rick Bayless.
Sur la Table may be the only retailer whose press packet includes a list of celebrities who have shopped there. (For the record, they include Courtney Cox, Lauren Bacall, Bette Midler, Martha Stewart and Robin Williams.)
Befitting the chef-as-retailer nature of Sur la Table, its president, Renee Behnke, has a background as caterer and as a retail buyer at Nordstrom and Bon Marché stores. At Sur la Table stores, there are 12,000 kitchen products, including knife sets, small appliances, linens, cookbooks and gadgets galore.
For instance, a set of J.A. Henckels knives, complete with “attaché” carrying case, retails for $899.95. A FrancisFrancis X5 Expresso Maker is $349. A “retro green” Kitchen-Aid Mixer is $279.95.
Viking came out of the manufacturing business, building high-end Viking Ranges. Viking Range Corp. is based in Greenwood, Miss.
At Viking, to say you can outfit your kitchen would be an understatement. A set of Viking Professional Cookware would run $2,930. Viking also sells dozens of varieties of olive oils, cookbooks and gourmet products like Killer Pecans, at $22 for a gift tin. You can also buy real chef’s items, like those checked pants, at $36 a pair.
But is all this stuff really necessary?
“You don’t need that many sauce pans,” chef Cooper said of Viking’s cookware set. “But [for the quality] they’re fairly priced. I bought two of the Teflon pans, which are really great. It had a great feel to it, a balanced feel, a place to put your thumb.”
All that and a class in how to use it, too.