Last Friday, the gourmet division of the vast Chef’s Equipment Emporium, was temporarily out of its bricks of pink Himalayan salt. Mined in Pakistan, the strong salt, which home and professional chefs place on a grill beneath meat or fish, has been especially popular these past few months.
Still, the 27,000 square-foot division within Chef's that intrigues residential and commercial chefs alike had 300 square feet of spices — Madagascar vanilla beans, liquid and paste among them — with a trove of ingredients such as red velvet and other extracts, olives oils and vinegars.
The gourmet division also has an inventory of cookware and bakeware, with a festive array of cookie cutters, baking sheets, and even sparkle dust to finish off the baking projects that emerge from home kitchens in large quantities at this time of year.
“Our gourmet division is passionate about cooking,” said Cindy Shestel, who manages both the original Emporium in Wallingford and a second in Berlin. “We’re all trying to get back to basics,” she said, acknowledging the trend away from processed foods and a subsequent demand for ingredients, such as spices, to enhance home cooked foods’ flavour.
She termed the presence of many items in the gourmet division a health issue.
For instance, she described polytetrafluoroethlyene, the non-stick surface that goes by the brand name Teflon as “not very good for you.” As such, the division now offers ceramic cookware and knives. To keep butcher blocks and wooden boards safe from bacteria, she said the store carries wooden boards whose surfaces are sealed.
She also noted that home cooking brings the family together.
“I’m finding that people are enjoying cooking,” she said.
The gourmet department is part of a family-owned business that opened nearly 40 years ago. Then, William DeMartino established DeMartino’s Store Fixture Co. in Wallingford to sell equipment to supermarkets.
The company expanded its commercial clientele to include businesses such as restaurants, bars, hotels and caterers, securing its reputation as a chef’s equipment company. It opened its showroom Chef’s Equipment Emporium to the public about 10 years ago, according to long-time employee Cindy Lancraft. Last September, Chef’s opened another location, whose orientation Lancraft termed more residential, in Berlin.
A second generation of the DeMartino family now operates the business. With the demise of many supply stores in New York City’s rapidly gentrifying Bowery district, Shestel said customers arrive from New York and also from cities such as Worcester, MA.
“Not everyone knows what they need,” said Shestel, suddenly aware that she was speaking with a visitor who does not cook but, rather, dusts her stove.
“We can offer help,” she said, adding that, at present, the store is working on its own cookbook.
To make the life of the home cook especially easy, the team at Chef’s includes master chef Debra Queen. Perhaps best known for her television appearances on WTNH, Queen comes to the store on Thursdays.
Shestel also dispelled the notion that anyone without the need for the high end appliance or commercial refrigerated cases displayed at the Emporium, which is 100,000 square-feet overall, need not stop by. She pointed to the gourmet division’s inexpensive chocolate pens and pencils.
And for the socially conscious, the cookie cutters include one in pink — this, to create cookies in the ribbon shape that is the international symbol of breast cancer awareness.
Prices in the gourmet division start at $1.99.
Chef's Equipment Emporium in Wallingford is located at 920 South Colony Rd.