Kitchen gadget collectors may unearth rare finds at San Francisco's Cookin'

January 06, 1991|By New York Times News Service

Shops devoted to vintage clothing, '50s furniture, used books or costume jewelry are easy to find. But a shrine to second-hand pots and pans? Meet Judy Kaminsky, the proprietor of Cookin' in San Francisco; it may be the only shop dedicated to used cookware.

"I have what you can't get anymore," Ms. Kaminsky said of the 20,000 items -- give or take a few hundred -- that fill her large shop in the East Haight district of the city by the bay.

Her "recycled gourmet appurtenances" include copper and speckled agateware from the 1890s, old French cafe saucers marked with francs and the Pyrex double boilers that are no longer manufactured.

"We're very low-tech," she said. "All the kids want mother's Revere Ware or handblown Chemex or a chrome blender from the '40s. The professionals come in with lists or wander around looking for rare items."

Stacks of blenders, stockpots, toasters, waffle irons, roasters, frying pans, juicers, tea kettles and whatever are piled up not only on top of the tables but also underneath and between, threatening navigation in the aisles.

Some aisles abruptly end, blocked by stacked treasure.

Shelves on the right wall are filled with bakeware (at one time, 300 brioche tins) and on the left wall are glassware and china.

The back wall has 600 cookbooks and copper pots and pans. Every item is cleaned and washed before it is put on display, but that's it. Dusting is unheard of. "We have to make it move out," Ms. Kaminsky says.

Some items cost as much as their new descendants. Ms. Kaminsky says secondhand kitchenware is often superior. A small glass measuring cup costs $15 but its markings are raised, not printed; they will never fade.

A recycled KitchenAid coffee grinder is about $40. Osterizer or Waring blenders from the 1940s to 1960s cost up to $45. They have only one speed, but Ms. Kaminsky says the motor is stronger than in the 10-speed models.

Cookin' charges up to $28 for an old blue enameled roaster with a rounded rather than a flat bottom, eliminating right angles that are difficult to clean. New roasters are about $23. An old (and rare) retinned 12-quart copper pot can run as high as $450.

To abet nostalgia -- pre-World War II poppy-seed mills (particularly sought by Middle European ladies who bake), sauerkraut choppers, toothpick holders and a milk bottle imprinted with the legend, "Good milk contains 10 percent cream" -- here they are, for anyone who wants to spend $35 to be reminded of life before the invention of cholesterol.

Not everything in Cookin' is recycled. Although most of the inventory comes from flea markets, about 10 percent of the items are close-outs of one sort or another, like the samples from seven booths of a trade show of gourmet products.

From such sources come new Italian garlic presses for $8 to $12 and French Perfex pepper mills -- the kind with little doors -- for $18. Prices for such items are from 25 percent to 45 percent less than in a conventional store.

Ms. Kaminsky, a former professor of English literature at the University of Ottawa, got the idea for Cookin' after she moved to San Francisco: She stocked her kitchen at flea markets. Pestered by friends and acquaintances for her acquisitions or duplicates, she began thinking commercial thoughts.

After one year of amassing an inventory, she rented a 600-square-foot store on Carl Street in the Haight. In 1988, she moved to her present location; she lives over the 2,500-square-foot store.

"On Saturdays we get kids, dogs and tourists from Omaha," she said. "We also get lots of New Yorkers."

Half of her customers are professionals in cooking. "Her things are both useful and beautiful," said Lindsey Shere, the pastry chef at Chez Panisse in Berkeley. "They've survived because they are sturdy. There's no substitute for the patina of age."

At Cookin', Ms. Shere found a French mouli that screens the seeds from fraises des bois, a cherry pitter and "lovely old chocolate molds."

David Lebovitz, the pastry chef at Monsoon, a Southeast Asian restaurant, found "really sturdy" old charlotte molds and soft plastic measuring cups, difficult to find.

Fran Gage of the Patisserie Francaise in the Upper Market area found a manual juicer like the one she last saw in Brussels in the 1970s, and Angel Stoyanof, who owns a modest Macedonian restaurant in the Sunset district, goes to Cookin' for German ice cream scoops lined with steel mesh, for scooping hummus.

People with cats are avid consumers of butter dishes, and beer makers want stock pots larger than eight quarts, preferably triple-ply stainless.

Ginger graters are a hot item. "Thai cooking," Ms. Kaminsky speculates. Pasta machines are making a comeback. "I only have one left," she says. "Can you believe it?"

Cookin' is at 339 Divisadero St., San Francisco, Calif. 94117; phone (415) 861-1854. Open Tuesdays to Saturdays, noon to 6:30 p.m.; Sundays 1 p.m to 5 p.m.; closed Mondays.

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