With Martha Stewart’s future up for grabs in the wake of allegations of funny business trading stocks, it’s hard to imagine what people will do with the fancy kitchen tools they have acquired over years of watching her; years of acquisition of tools, pots and pans, pastry tubes, cookie cutters and cheese cloth, and coloured sprinkles and pinking shears, angel food cake tins, cupcake tins and tins for gingerbread men without which no civilised domestic acolyte can survive. Not to mention the device that turns onions into flowers and flowers into salad garnish, and maybe a container in which to deep fry a turkey as they do in the American South. Oh, and the flame thrower for the crème brûlée. This is not just cooking, this is religion; there is ritual here, there is dedication; there is faith unabated.
On a morning TV show a while back, while a reporter badgered her about her alleged stock trading misdemeanours, Martha just kept right on chopping greens with her precision tools. S he declared: “I just want to focus on my salad.” Whether or not Martha’s salad days are over, her disciples carry on with not just the pots and pans, the whisks and bowls, the garlic press, the tortilla press, the thing you make calzone with. And the paillard pounder I saw at Williams- Sonoma, America’s fancy kitchenware chain. Out in the hinterlands (beyond New York City), you can also get great stuff at Target, everyone’s favorite down-home mart. Here are towels designed by Philippe Starck and kettles courtesy of Michael Graves. No wonder those in the know pronounce it Targé as though it were French. And the French know, do they not? They understand the drive to kitchen finery is not just about cooking, it’s about the semiotics of kitchen glamour; with the French, it’s not about the practice, it’s about the theory.
All this is on my mind because I am in the throes of kitchen fever. I’ve redone my kitchen, a phrase calculated to elicit horror in anyone who has ever attempted renovation in NYC. In the process, however, in a delirium of cleaning, I threw out everything, the pots and pans that were stained and dented, the corkscrew so complicated it required an adviser. Also the toaster which, since the builders failed to cover anything, was infested with plaster paint and dust. (I hated it; I hate almost all toasters. Either they’re cheap and ugly or they resemble equipment that could land you on Mars, though maybe not if you’re British.)
Anyhow, it’s all gone. I could avail myself of all the gorgeous equipment out there, not because I need it but because it is, these days, art. First of all, now that it’s in America, I plan to acquire some of Nigella L awson’s delicious kitchenware which is not only seriously pretty but signed by Nigella. This stuff has provenance; it has a name. We are talking about kitchenware that speaks to you in a personal voice, that is the cookery equivalent of Manolo Blahnik shoes. Here are whisks and measuring cups intended both for the cook (which I am not) and for the shopper (my tribe).
Oh, for the bowls in duck egg blue and cream, for the cutting boards in beech that match my counter tops, for the pitchers so gorgeous I will use them for flowers and the storage containers into which I will put luscious nuts which people, on first visiting my new kitchen, will eat with the vintage bubbly I provide just before the caterers deliver the food. I will also be shopping at Moss, New York, the most fabulous design shop in which everything has a name, date and history. Take Timo S arpaneva’s 1960 cast-iron pot. Take Philippe Starck’s surrealist cake server “ Ceci n’est pas une truelle ”. (Magritte, eat your heart out.) There is a chilli mill by Ettore S ottsass, or the Nonno di Antonio garlic press by Guido Venturini or the La Cintura saucepan.
A friend, listening in on my plans says sharply, “You don’t need all that stuff. There are members of tribes in Africa who consider themselves exceedingly wealthy if they possess one cooking pot.” Yes? And? First of all, this is a man whose outer limits of cooking expertise is the making of a cup of coffee (instant). Also, I do not live in Africa. My tribe is the tribe of shoppers; my gods, the domestic idols; my tribal lands S oHo and Notting Hill where they do not judge you by your cows but by your Alessis. Also, in times of political distress you can use your brand new pots to bang on. I mean, look at S erbia. In 1996, people took to the streets of Belgrade with their pots and pans. Now, if you were caught in a demo in, say, London or New York, you wouldn’t want people to know you by some hideous old non-stick cookware, would you? You wouldn’t want to be revealed as a woman (or a man) who could not distinguish her Teflon from her All-Clad. ✦