As one might expect, we just love Williams-Sonoma. So it is fitting and proper that we feature Merchant of Sonoma on Chuck Williams 99th birthday. William Warren's Merchant of Sonoma tells the story of Chuck Williams and his now famous cookery store.
On May 1, 1953, Chuck Williams saw Paris for the first time...and as they say, the rest was history. Williams was a fine amateur cook living in the sleepy village of Sonoma. He was looking for a business opportunity when he ran across a hardware store. The building would house a couple of other small businesses and provide an income. He would keep the hardware store and add a few household items. It would be a big move, so he left with friends for a trip to Europe.
In Paris, Williams found wonderful items to stock a kitchen. Items that were unknown to most of America. Williams loved the simple foods and fancy cookware and an idea was born. Williams kept his hardware store, but gradually realized that the hardware he wanted to sell was the hardware for the kitchen. Williams began importing items he had seen in France to Sonoma and selling them in his shop and through the mail.
Clearly, it was an idea whose time had come. It is still coming. Along with hardware, Williams included a few select pantry items. One of his first was Italian balsamic vinegar. This simple salad was one of Williams' favorites. He carefully explains that in Italy, the oil and vinegar are not mixed together. A salad is tossed first in the vinegar, then tossed in the oil. They believe the oil holds in the vinegar and prevents it from dripping to the bottom of the bowl.
Blacksmith Salad6 servings
1 large or 2 small heads butter lettuce
1 piece Parmesan cheese, 3 oz.
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Pinch of salt
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
Chill salad bowl but do not allow it to become too cold or the lettuce leaves will stick to it.
Discard any tough or discolored outer lettuce leaves. Separate, rinse and thoroughly dry remaining leaves, then tear any larger leaves into pieces. Place in chilled salad bowl. Using vegetable peeler, slice Parmesan cheese into very thin chips and scatter over lettuce. Sprinkle with vinegar and salt and toss well. Drizzle oil over top and toss again. Serve on individual plates.
With his expert eye for detail and his love of great food, Chuck Williams built an empire, an adult candyland for the home cook.
Happy Birthday Mr. Williams.