Company founded by Chuck Williams in Sonoma, California that sells gourmet food and tools to people like me who think they can cook.

Started as a single neighborhood store selling French cookware to chefs in Sonoma in the 1950s, moved to San Francisco in 1958. Chuck Williams himself was a riveter for Lockheed in World War II, and then started hanging out with gourmet cook friends, and a 1950s European tour opened his eyes to high-quality European cookware.

Began a mail-order business in 1971, which became enormously successful. Then a series of retail stores which are now in many upscale shopping malls throughout the United States.

Williams-Sonoma may be single-handedly responsible for the whole upscale kitchen trend in the United States. For proof, compare the kitchens of the wealthy in 1960 to the ones in 2000. Modern upscale kitchens are full of commercial quality appliances and tools; in 1960, you were stuck with Farberware and Frigidaire.

I love going into a Williams-Sonoma store. They sell really nice stuff--stuff that when you cook with it, you are happy. There's something about knives that cut well, hefty pans, and quality appliances that make you feel like you're a good cook, which is really half the battle of cooking. The catalog is also a worthy addition to any endtable or bathroom magazine rack, and is full of great recipes (usually featuring food sold in the catalog, but not always.)

Williams-Sonoma Inc. also owns Pottery Barn, Hold Everything, and Chambers stores and mail-order.

Yeah, food porn.

I bought a Christmas gift from these people a year or two ago, and I paid for it with a credit card. Now they've got my coordinates locked in and they pelt me with catalogs. This is not so bad, because the catalogs are fun. They've got a whole arsenal of fiendishly expensive tungsten-iridium-cobalt alloy German knives with odd little sigils on the blades. They seem to be diversifying, too: At the end they've got boring stuff like vacuum cleaners, rugs, door mats, candles, and wreaths. They've also got the usual gimmicky nonsense: "Monogrammed Hotel-Silver Stilton Server"? It's sort of a flat trowel (which is to say, the handle is not at an angle to the blade) with an Ugly English Silver Pattern handle. What the hell? Seems to me the best way to eat Stilton is just to gnaw on it like a big ol' apple, but maybe I'm not as smooth as I think.

The real fun is in the beginning: They sell food, and not just the artsily-labeled olive oil you see in their stores. The only thing more fun than reading about food is reading about food with pictures, and the photography sure looks good. It's all obscenely expensive and I just don't believe it'd profit from spending a few days in the mail, but it's fun to read about.

Well, maybe it's not all fun: You know how the Gap will decide that you're all damned well going to wear leather jackets this year or some idiotic thing? Williams-Sonoma thinks you should be eating peppermint, and lots of it. They've got a whole "line" of color-coordinated hyper-cutesy boxes of random peppermint crap, all of it (naturally) hand made by gnarled old-world entrepreneurs and ex-hippie artisans (the adjective "artisanal" is used with apparent seriousness) in Northern California. Some of it just isn't plausible: Sheets of white chocolate backed with real chocolate with fragments of candy canes ('course they don't call 'em that that) glued on top? Come on, who'd eat that stuff? They've also got the obligatory (for middle-class crap catalogs) Christmas-season anglophile crap like "Christmas crackers", which last I heard where pretty much why they lost the war.

They've got a wide selection of desiccated cookies in flashy boxes, but we'll gently ignore that stuff. On page ten they get serious: Panforte: Ancient family recipe predates the Crusades! It's some kind of chewy thing with almonds and candied orange peel and citron. Even better: Piedmontese torrone: Blah blah (something about the fifteenth century), soft nougat, hazelnuts, almonds, spices, antique molds, etc. Antique molds, indeed: The torrone around these parts they just pour into an old shoe and stick it in the fridge. And the antique mold version is only sixteen bucks for 10.5 ounces.

Hm, blah blah truffles (tasty but not much to read about), Calvados truffles (on paper it's hard to take Calvados seriously in any context, but maybe I should try it first), marshmallows (they've got a hard-on for marshmallows this year for some reason), blah blah, ah, yes, page 26: Rolled Stuffed Roasts! A cylinder of the very finest pork, stuffed with "apricots, cranberries, mushrooms, and herbs"! Mm, yeah. Only sixty-five bucks, for three pounds. The lamb version's got "roasted red bell peppers" in it, which sounds awful. Just because red's a pretty color doesn't mean you have to eat crap, guys.

There's genuinely weird stuff here and there: Caramelized salmon? Yeah, right, pull the other one. The smoked beef brisket on the next page looks wonderful. I wish you could see the picture. Ohh, and then on the page after that, they've got a lamb roast with a black truffle demi-glace: 3 lb., $95.00. They're not big on patés: They've got two sort of "samplers" of three each. The first one looks promising: Duck with Armagnac and (?!) prunes, and pheasant (pheasants is good eating, by the way) with fennel and herbs. At $42.00 for ~1.68 pounds of food, you'd hope they could have come up with something better for the third item in the box: Turkey livers? Sure, it's from France and all, but... Turkey? Still, that pheasant thing sounds darn good. I should cross the tracks and see if anybody's selling that kind of thing over where the respectable people live.

Okay, beef in varying manifestations (tenderloin, porterhouse steaks, etc.) at prices ranging up to $27.80/lb. Good beef can be darn good, but I don't want to read about it. Let's move on to the "Cocktail Lamb Chops".

Cocktail Lamb Chops appear to be little flesh lollipops with bones sticking out. $59.00/1.25 lb (eek), but they're cute, and they come with mint sauce and garnishes, too. Also with garnishes (cucumbers spiced with Thai chilies? Huh?) they've got a smoked salmon roulade filled with a mousse composed of more smoked salmon, butter, flying fish roe, and wasabi. That sounds kinda neat.

From there, they wander off into cheeses, quince paste, and caviar (for which I'm damned if I'll develop a taste in this economy) before settling down to page after page of shiny hardware you cut stuff with and put stuff in. The cheese knife set is genuinely outlandish: Five little "knives" with bulbous wooden handles and rounded blades in five odd shapes. They look like something hobbits would use. To hell with hobbits. I'm hungry.

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