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Twenty five years ago Burt Wolf, Milton Glaser and James Beard compiled The Cooks' Catalogue, a tome that Time magazine called "The definitive book on cooking equipment." In it, the authors and a team of experts evaluated and rated thousands of items of cooking equipment for "comfort, safety, practicality, durability and multiplicity of use."

The book's impact on the buying public and housewares world was electric. It garnered more than 1,000 reviews in newspapers and magazines nationwide -- even the venerable New York Times ran a review. Retailers and manufacturers showed up at the Chicago Housewares show with copies of The Cooks' Catalogue in tow. On the strength of the book, Wolf was enlisted to develop a franchise of cooking equipment shops called The Cook's Kitchen, which were installed in more than 200 department stores and helped influence the way kitchen equipment is sold today.

Wolf, who has become a culinary personality, has kept busy writing and editing dozens of books as well as hosting five internationally syndicated television series, is updating this classic kitchen companion.

Wolf and New York Times food columnist Florence Fabricant are directing a host of journalists in testing products for the revision, which will be published by Alfred A. Knopf. The Cook's Catalogue 25th Anniversary Project will also debut a 26-part television series based on the editorial content of the book, which will be distributed via PBS to more than 85 percent of the homes in the U.S. Finally, there are plans to launch a Web site that will use the book's contents to sell housewares. Wolf talked with HFN about his projects during the recent NHMA International Housewares Show.

HFN: What was the impact of The Cook's Catalogue when it was first published?

BW: Quality was marginal. The book became a guide to the criteria for the selection of quality products. It affected three areas. First the consumer became aware of what the product was and what was the criteria for selection of let's say a stock pot.... They then knew what to buy. The retailers knew what they should be carrying and the manufactures saw what was coming and they began to wake up. All-Clad woke up. Calphalon had never been to the Housewares Show at that point and they woke up.

HFN: Why update The Cook's Catalogue at this time?

BW: One day I was talking to a charming 30-year-old woman who was setting up her kitchen. She had no information on how to go about it. We realized there is a generation out there that knows nothing [about cookware] at all. You cannot find independent, tough information about kitchenware in this industry.... We've enlisted writers and food experts to test products who have an edge. We want a fabulous baker to come along and say about a product, 'It's all right, but it doesn't do this.'

HFN: What are some of the key changes that will be included in the revision?

BW: One change is that we are including a chapter on materials to address the extraordinary change in materials used in kitchenware over the past two decades.

HFN: Is that a change for the better?

BW: Very much so. Another change is that there has been a shift in many of the manufacturers' approach to what constitutes a moral, reliable description of products. Everything today is 'professional.' Forget it! Or there is this new thing called a 'health pan.' One of the things the book will do is remind retailers that they have to have a sense of commitment to the integrity of promotional materials.

HFN: How can retailers improve today?

BW: The big retailers are doing everything that e-commerce wants them to do. You go on the retail floor, there's someone there who knows absolutely nothing, or maybe they are working for the manufacturer. I was astounded the first time I went to a store and that happened. I've got a real problem with manufacturers selling their own product at retail. How would you like to go to your doctor and have the drug company representative serve you? The reason we're doing this book is that we're offended by this. We're going to make it very expensive to lie to the public.

HFN: How are you going to tie in the kitchenware focus of the book with your new television series?

BW: We want to show you can take this stuff and make it really exciting. The shows are all shot on location. For instance, in a recent shoot we went to China and went to see the chef who is reputedly China's fastest with a cleaver. We let him demonstrate cleavers, because it was fun. But it also supports retailers by showing the public the many uses for such a cleaver: it pounds, and can be used as a spatula as well as for cutting. We also do a show on non-knife cutting instruments by having Ed MacMahon, who's first job was selling vegetable peelers in Atlantic City, do his veggie peeler routine.
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Publication:HFN The Weekly Newspaper for the Home Furnishing Network
Article Type:Book Review
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 1, 1999

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