Q & A with our founder, Shirley Collins
In celebration of our 47th anniversary we hosted Shirley Collins, the founder of Sur La Table, here at our headquarters in Seattle. Shirley reminisced with us about some of her favorite memories—and even her favorite meal.
What are some of your fondest memories of Sur La Table?
It’s always been about the people; they gave me the support I needed. There’s also the day that Danny Kaye came in for stainless-steel mixing bowls. He grabbed a wok and danced around the store with it on his head. Then of course Jacques Pepin. He was always wonderful and charming. And Julia [Child] – inspiring, loving, wonderful Julia.
What is the best thing that anyone has ever cooked for you?
It was mashed potatoes from Joël Robuchon. We had this mountain of mashed potatoes just drenched in butter. He was famous for his mashed potatoes, and he only used Princess La Ratte potatoes.
How did growing up in South Texas influence your cooking?
We were so [far] South, we were close to the border with Mexico. My family went there to shop for food because they had a huge market and South Texas didn’t have anything like that. I learned the value of a fresh pepper. I learned to talk to the growers. It was wonderful and influenced the way that I cook.
What is your most treasured kitchen possession?
I have an All-Clad pot that’s five quarts. It’s deep and has a rounded shape and domed lid. I use it to make everything. I boil pasta in it, I make soup in it, I braise things in it. It’s just a fabulous pot.
If you could invite five guests to a dinner party, who would they be?
Bridget Charters, Kim Smith, Cathy Conner, Sally McArthur. All these women worked hard to make a place at the table for women in the food industry. Of course, I would probably ask Julia [Child] too because she’s so entertaining and everybody would like that.
If you could have only one meal for the rest of your life, what would it be?
As a woman starting a business 47 years ago, what obstacles did you face and how did you address them?
I was the first female in the state of Washington to apply for a bank loan on my own. Women didn’t apply for them in those days because they didn’t see it as something they could do. But I did. Women were made to feel like they were not valued, but we are. We need to recognize that and honor it in everything we do.
What do you think sets Sur La Table apart?
The connection to food. The heart of the store was the food around us. The food we made, the food we ate, and the people we fed. We helped raise money for the people in the market who didn’t have enough to eat. It was always a wonderful community that worked together, and I’ve sensed that it’s still here.
Where do you hope to see Sur La Table in five years?
Stay the course. Make sure you’re connected to food. Grow carefully. Be genuine and make a difference.
We will, Shirley. Happy Anniversary!
To read more about Shirley, check out our interview with her from 2017.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.