If you’ve visited “the first Sur La Table”— our store in Seattle’s historic Pike Place Market— chances are you’ve been helped by Sales Associate Barbra Riegel. Barbara is celebrating a record-setting 18 years with Sur La Table this month [blogger’s note: woo hoo! Virtual confetti toss!], so we thought we’d celebrate by asking her about the secrets of her Sur La Table success, her favorite things in the kitchen, and the one extra item she thinks every customer should consider getting.
Hi Barbara! Congratulations on your work-iversary. Can you tell us a bit about your Sur La Table history?
I started in June, 1997 at the Pike Place Market store before there was air conditioning. Everyone ran around sweating in tank tops and shorts!
What made you want to work at Sur La Table back then?
A year before I started at Sur La Table, I was rushed to the hospital and had emergency quadruple bypass surgery. After that I decided to leave my high stress world and work at something I was passionate about and was fun.
You’re officially the longest-tenured Sur La Table Associate in the history of the company. How does that feel?
Very strange. I never thought I’d be here this long!
What’s the secret to your longevity?
Keeping things fresh, not getting in a rut, always learning—I read a lot about our products and get hands-on experience when I can. There’s always something new to discover!
What do you love about your job?
I get to talk about cooking all day long!
How do our customers inspire you and vice-versa?
I am a writer and I know that every person has a story. So many customers have inspired me. We share our triumphs and troubles and then we laugh about them and share recipes for food and life.
What’s the one thing you’d want someone who’s never been to one of our stores to know about Sur La Table?
We are friendly, knowledgeable and accessible. We have something for everybody!
Let’s talk products. What are you excited about in your store these days?
Our new Cuisinart ice cream maker with multiple choice controls is pretty spiffy. I am a big Demeyere fan and their new ceramic line has caught my eye. I’d love a new Nespresso bundle, and a large Zojirushi rice cooker for meals with my daughter and grandson.
What’s the one extra thing you think every customer should consider buying?
If you invest in a quality knife, you should absolutely get a honing steel. We’ll show you how to use it!
Do you cook at home? If so, what are the signature dishes that you love to cook?
I am a devoted vegan cook, except for when I’m in France. Like Parisians, I wait for the season when a fruit or vegetable is at the peak of freshness. We are so lucky in Seattle to live in a city with so many wonderful farmers’ markets. I love to browse and get inspired to create a dish out of what’s seasonal and new.
What are your own must-have kitchen items?
My Breville multi-temp electric kettle. It brews the right temperature for green tea, white tea, coffee, black tea. Also, my beautiful collection of Mauviel copper; the latest addition is their jam pan. It makes the best confiture ever.
Do you have a secret weapon in the kitchen?
Yes! I’m smiling as I write this. It’s a can of Italian tomatoes for smashing unpeeled garlic cloves. The best.
For those of us just getting started cooking at home: any memorable mishaps in the kitchen that you can share with us?
One of the first things I ever attempted was sweet potato casserole for Thanksgiving. I didn’t realize you had to cook them first before baking them in the oven. They were hard as rocks. I was very young! The other thing I did was use my mother’s old pressure cooker—split pea soup mural over all the kitchen walls when it exploded. Thank goodness for Kuhn Rikon. I own two.
Last question: if you had to choose one, what’s your favorite kitchen item from Sur La Table and why?
Oh dear, too many favorites to choose just one!
Thanks Barbara! Congratulations again on your milestone anniversary.