8021 Clayton Road
St. Louis, MO 63117
Ph: 314-862-COOK (2665)
Store Hours
Mon-Sat 9:30 am to 5:30 pm
Sun 12 to 5 pm
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Ask The Chef

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SPECIAL TO THE POST-DISPATCH
05/23/2008
After more than two decades in cooking, including at several top restaurants in France, Anne Cori expresses her beliefs about food in aphorisms. Here’s one: “In the time it takes a pot of water to boil, you can make pasta.” And another: “It’s better with butter.” My favorite: “I don’t have a microwave. Reheating is not cooking.”
Cori considers her store a destination for serious cooks, with few frills and none of the table settings and adornments one might find at a national cooking chain store. Many nights chefs teach classes in the two kitchens in the back of the store, past the hanging copper and stainless-steel pans up front. We spoke seated at the counter in a demo kitchen.
Why did you go to France?

I realized if I didn’t have France on my resume, nobody would ever take me seriously.

Did you have letters of reference?

When you travel abroad, you meet people who lead you to other people. I was very fortunate. Paris was my base. I worked the hot line on and off at a little place called Le Grenadin. I followed food. I wanted to learn as much as possible about how to make delicious food.

What did you learn?

I learned more at the restaurants that were trying hard, when they had all the energy and excitement, than at the restaurant that had made it and was coasting.

Do you speak French?

Kitchen French, which is not suitable for polite company.

Have you read George Orwell’s “Down and Out in Paris and London” about working in kitchens? Did he get it right?

Maybe he had it right for the kitchens in France in the ’20s, but the kitchens in France in the ’90s were the cleanest I’ve ever seen. You could eat off the floor.

Is France still the leader in food?

One of the things about France is cooking is a career choice you make at age 14. This is a career you’re going to stay with your whole life. In the United States, people flit in and out of restaurant jobs.

How did you get started in Kitchen Conservatory?

It started in Belleville in 1984 and moved to this location in 1991. I had taught classes here in 1991. I was an irregular instructor here. The owner, Carol Hess, called me on Oct. 1, 1997, and asked me if I wanted to buy it. We closed the deal on Oct. 15. There’s a certain spontaneous quality to my life.

You must have good resources or really good credit.

I didn’t tell my family. They read about it in the paper. I put my house up as collateral.

How much did you pay?

Uh, it was five digits. Less than a hundred (thousand dollars).

That was a pretty good deal, wasn’t it?

It was a much smaller business.

What accounts for your following?

Food is a lot of fun. People are interested in food. After all, we have to do it three times a day.

Unless you are on a diet.

I have a theory about that, too. If you cook all the food you eat, then you’ll eat in moderation. You can always tell a chef who’s on the line compared to a chef who’s graduated to an executive position. The chef on the line is rail thin, and the executive chef is plumped out.

What is it that people like about food?

First, does it taste delicious?

Why do people come to your classes?

They come to my classes for two reasons: One, we are in the second generation of people who have not grown up in a household where they have seen somebody cook on a regular basis. Food is as mysterious to them as plumbing is to me. They need to learn the basics, and they need to learn how to cook. They’re interested in what’s in the food they’re cooking and the food they love.

The second is the excitement of the restaurant chefs. This pre-dates the TV food network. If you eat out in your local corner restaurant, you are still excited about what the guy’s doing.

I’m skeptical about some of the people I’ve seen in these classes. I doubt they cook at home.

How many actually go home and cook the class? Less than 25 percent. Even if you’ve never actually made the food that you saw prepared in class, you get a better understanding of what’s involved in it. It’s de-mystifying food and explaining why food is priced the way it is. How it’s made. What goes into it.

It seems we have a contradiction here. We have unhealthy, prepared food, and we have healthier, more costly, so-called natural food.

The choice and variety we have now make it such an exciting time to be a cook. I remember growing up and having asparagus maybe twice in a year. The variety we had then is nothing like what we have today. It does make being a cook very exciting.

What about the carbon footprint of foods?

People are not going to embrace the locavore (locally grown food) movement seriously because they will not stop eating coffee, chocolate, or citrus. Are we going to give up those things? What makes locally produced food so wonderful is that you’re eating it soon after it was picked ripe.

How do you keep up with the market in kitchen items?

We have 6,000 items here. I try to stock things I would use in the kitchen, not the gimmicky or one-season wonders, but tools cooks will enjoy using and will make your life easier.

What’s the most popular item you sell?

The All-Clad cookware, the stainless line. It’s an aluminum core and stainless exterior. It’s dishwasher safe. Home cooks like to be able to put things in the dishwasher.

How many people come for classes a year?

Twelve thousand. We do 600 cooking classes a year with two kitchens.

Is that your mainstay?

No, the cookware is.

Do the chain stores make life hard for you?

Each has its niche. We are in the kitchen. We are not a cute or fluffy store.