"Do you watch Rachael Ray?" a woman asked me, looking desperate. I replied that yes, I was familiar with her cooking. "Oh good!" she replied, "she has this thing that she calls 'stoup' - do you have any idea how I would make that?" I certainly did. (Stoup, by the way, is a cross between a soup and a stew, and a term that has surely been trademarked by Ms. RR.)
The dropping of celebrity chef names as though they are old friends is becoming a regular occurrence and is always accompanied by the request for a particular recipe or ingredient. I drop names myself, mentioning Nigella Lawson as I hunt for her very British ingredients - I have yet to find smoked herring chips. I can only imagine that with the release of the new movie focusing on Julia Child, the resurgence of love for the late great Dame of Cooking will drive up demand for butcher's string to truss up whole chickens.
Frankly, I credit the recent economic hiccup for this renewed interest in following in celebrity chef's footsteps. With the loss of our disposable income, consumers are thinking more about getting their hands dirty in the kitchen - and they're doing it with the help of a new generation of aspirational and relatable celebrity chefs. Less daunting than Dame Julia's soufflés, Guy Fieri's turkey meatloaves are easy, delicious and inexpensive to prepare.
Our customers and team members have always been "foodies" - those who love to try exotic ingredients and scour the local paper for recipes, then buy out our entire supply of dried chipotle peppers (for example). But the current trend of celebrity chef programming has had a different spin that we are responding to - affordable, fail-proof recipes that make everyone feel better about not being able to drop a ton of cash on that new restaurant down the street.
At Whole Foods Market, we see customers clamoring for knowledge on how to create their own dishes from scratch. Stacks of recipes cards and cookbooks are flying off the shelves. Our Team Members are getting to use their culinary prowess more and more each day as customers ask "How should I prepare this sockeye salmon?" and "I saw this recipe for Panzanella salad on Ina Garten's show. Can you help me find the ingredients?"
It is great to see the public getting back into the kitchen and exploring new ingredients, and we do all we can to help while customers are in our store. Culinary novices can take advantage of our active cooking demos, special diet seminars, and informational classes for team members and customers on ingredients, departments and dishes. Each store has their own special events. A recent demo night at my store involved each team researching a celebrity chef and focusing their demo on what that chef does best. The Rachel Ray team did a "30 Minute Meal", the Duff team did an elaborate cake, an the Bobby Flay team did an amazing grilling dish. Team Members loved "channeling" a celebrity, and customers loved voting for their favorite chef.
Cooking a meal is cheaper than dining out, more socially responsible than a trip through the drive-thru, and, in the words of my best friend Nigella Lawson "a bit of pottering in the kitchen never fails to calm one down after a long day."