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Celebrity chef sighting-----well, almost....

Tyler Florence's Mill Valley Kitchenware Emporium
The motherlode of kitchen gadgetry, cookbooks, geegaws and do-dads

 I've had an ongoing love affair with the culinary arts for as long as I can remember. From my inauspicious beginnings at the Golden Arches at 16, to my stint as the Pacific Northwest's answer to the Soup Nazi, nothing gives me more pleasure than feeding others. Where did this come from, this all-comsuming need to feed?  Well, picture a small girl of 8, standing at her mother's knee, watching as her mom carefully bastes the golden chicken just pulled from the oven.  Helping to mash potatoes, or toss the salad while standing on a kitchen chair under mom's tender tutelage, the love for cooking nurtured carefully over time.  Now erase that June Cleaver-esque vision from your thoughts completely.  My mother, bless her soul, was as OCD as the day was long.  The mere thought of my tinkering in the kitchen brought only visions of disorder and dissaray so terrifying that she'd just as soon set her hair on fire than let me in the kitchen to bake a batch of cookies.   So where then?

As a teen, my first job was at a McDonald's in Capitola, California---not exactly the gourmet emporium I had envisioned myself working at, but it was a start.  From there, I worked at a pizza restaurant in Washington state. The pizza was decent, but then there was the soup.  It was a 'cream of chicken noodle', a gloppy, neon yellow concoction of 'chicken soup base', overcooked egg noodles, dehydrated parsley flakes, and not a lick a' chicken or cream anywhere near the cauldron.  My boss, a man with actual working tastebuds, asked me if I'd be interested in creating some new soups for the restaurant---are you kidding?  woo hoo!.  Minestra;  fresh tomato;  potato leek; crab bisque.  Hey, this was pretty edgy stuff back in 1980, especially in our neck of the Pacific Northwest woods.  The soups were a success and I loved the creativity and having full authority over soup detail. I did the soup gig for a couple of years, but unfortunately, as much as I loved my role of Soup Nazi of Bellingham, Washington,  the pull of Northern California was stronger, so I packed my bags, my soup ladle, and headed south, towards home. 

I landed my first real kitchen job at  a local law     school, of all places. It was 1985, and I had switched my career focus from food to printing (go figure).  I had a customer who'd come in regularly, and we'd end up gabbing about recipes and cooking, and she eventully told me she worked in the catering deparment at the law school;  and would I be interested in doing some part time work there as well?  Well, I guess my friend talked me up quite a bit to the boss, and the day I arrived, he asked me to fetch him some cilantro.  When I returned with watercress instead,  he did little to hide the utter disgust and disdain at my ineptitude.  If it's possible to hiss words loudly, he was a master   'That's watercresssssss;  I said cccccccccccilantro'.   Is it just me, or is he upset with me?  But of course, things change.  I was a fast learner and although a part-timer, I earned my chops,  and more importantly,  the respect of the hissing director. In my five years at McGeorge,  I helped prepare dinners for Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy (okay, he was a law professor back then and went by Tony, but still!) and Raymond Burr (yes, Perry Mason himself).  I was proverbially on my way.

It was an exciting time in the world of food, the start of a movement that took over the nation.  Martha Stewart had just begun her bid for world-wide, domestic goddess domination, Chez Panisse was the reservation to get, and food was morphing into an all-consuming passion for everyday folks, as well as the bona-fide epicureans among us.  I'd read cookbooks cover to cover---who needs fiction?  My copy of Martha's Entertaining (which I still have and use to this day), became my culinary bible;  I can't tell you how many times I made her Croquembouche for parties and potlucks (yes, I was, and quite possibly still am a shameless show off in the kitchen), which would inevitably find it's place on the buffet table, between the Rice Crispy treats and the oatmeal cookies--uh, hello, can somebody cover up that pink elephant on the food table?. 

I'm not sure when exactly I started watching the Food Network.  Sacramento didn't lead the nation in the race for cable, and I didn't immediately jump on the cable bandwagon when it finally did make it to town.  In the pre-cable days, I would get my cooking show fix from the local PBS station:  Biba, Jeff Smith (The Frugal Gourmet), Mary Ann Esposito, Caprial Pence.  It was sufficient, until I heard there was a cable network devoted entirely to food. 

With my cable fully installed, I must admit, my dial didn't budge much further than the Food Network channel.  One of the shows I watched regularly was  Food 911.  The premise was simple.  A home cook would write to the network for help with a dish that  they couldn't get quite right.  An ambulance would show up with Tyler Florence carrying a medical bag, and he'd rescue (usually a damsel) in their own kitchen, review what they were doing wrong, offering tips to improve the overall success of the dish. They'd cook the dish together, then he'd sit down with the fam and share the meal.   I loved the show, and I loved Tyler Florence's style, the way he cooked, his t-shirt and jeans approach to food: unfussy, comfortable, tons of flavor.  He'd hunker down over the plate, apply the final flourishes with a sure hand.  He cooked the way I liked to cook, (croquembouche notwithstanding):  not too fussy, delicate, or trendy;  upscale comfort food at it's best.

So, fast forward to 2009.  Much has changed;  I still cook, although me thinks my croquembouche days are pretty much behind me----with kids, pets, house, sports, writing, the social networking frenzy; who has the time to make a 12 step, 3 foot high dessert?  

I joined Twitter a couple months ago.  I'd recently heard of it through a group of friends, and casually thought I'll check it out, sometime; that is, until I found out who else was tweeting on a regular basis.  Politicians, movie stars, talk show hosts, and OMG, TV chefs!  Bobby Flay;  Rachael;  Emeril, and Tyler Florence.   Well, I started following every foodie, wine-oh, and culinary themed tweeter I could find.  I found Tyler, and was surprised to see that he'd opened a kitchen store.  In Mill Valley, no less, practically down the road apiece from Sactown.  I had to get my Bread Baker's Apprentice book anyway.....sure, I could save some dough ordering through Amazon, but what fun would that be?   I coaxed a willing, fellow unemployed buddy into a Thursday morning road trip (and it didn't take much coaxing, let me tell ya) and armed with water, Marin street map, and digital camera, we arrived in Mill Valley,  just as the store was about to open. 

The store was charming, with a very French Country feel;  fresh flowers everywhere, in pots, champagne buckets, vases.  There was a vase of lilies at the front counter, that were as big as dinner plates---I thought they were silk, until I walked by and caught a whiff of their heady perfume. The back of the store pays homage to the old reading rooms of times past.  Dark woods,  distressed leather furniture, a cozy fireplace and one of the largest selections of cookbooks I'd seen---where's my pillow and blankie?    I didn't see my BBA book, so I inquired at the front counter.  A floor person was dispatched right away, and managed to find me their final copy, which was tucked into a corner of one bookshelf, out of sight.  There was an exhibition kitchen for cooking demos,  and black and white episodes of Julia Child "French Chef'' reruns on digital TV.  Lovely groupings placed all over the store, antiques and objets d'arts placed alongside more utilitarian kitchen tools for a nice mix of old, new, sturdy and delicate.  We browsed for about an hour---no, not stalled, I said browsed.  I payed for my cookbook, and a wine bottle vacuum sealer, and asked if we could leave the bag while we strolled through town and grabbed lunch.  They were more than happy to oblige.  We returned about 2 hours later.  The bag was there, but disappointingly, no TF.  

Was I disappointed I didn't catch a glimpse of my favorite TV chef?  Well, yes, of course....the gushing schoolgirl in me wanted to shake hands and say hello----but the visit was successful, the place a feast for the eyes, and the staff was charming, friendly and more than happy to lend a hand to a couple of chicks from up north, down for a day of gawking, and a little shopping.   Great stuff indeed!

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