The Seventh floor of Frederick & Nelson was the first kitchenware store many of us ever saw in the Northwest and it was a wondrous place in our mid-century world of Jello molds and pigs-in-a-blanket.
It was Christmas,1968 and the Gift of the Year that year was ultimate kitchen gadget, the machine that promised to end kitchen drudgery as we knew it, the fabulous CuisinArt food processor.
But Frederick's was filled with mushroom brushes and lemon zesters and berry buzzers and nut beaters. There were dill mills and peach pippers and muffin mallets and shrimp zippers and pickle planes and piping pokes and truffle duffles and radical ideas in corkscrew technology.
These thingamajigs which still plug up kitchenware stores and kitchen junk-drawers, promise a breeze in the kitchen and are exotic and wondrous and mostly... useless. They were usually bought to make corsages for the honorees at bridal showers, a custom now gone the way of the handwritten thank-you notes.
My brother David was at Edison Tech (now known as Seattle Central Community College) at the time learning the cooking trade and the use of that Crescent wrench of professional cooks, the French knife.
(photo: Henckel's 12' lettuce wrench)
I suppose he couldn't help it, but he was 20-years-old and his manhood was easily affronted and threatened. He hated the idea that a machine could short cut years of the training and practice. The CuisinArt was wrong, and righting wrongs was where he was at, as we used to say.
Instinctively knowing what a man’s gotta do, he picked up his knife and went downtown.
The CuisinArt demo table at Frederick’s was in a corner of Kitchenwares near a forest of waist-high pepper grinders and gigantic wooden salad forks. It was manned by one of those rouge-y old Frederick’s battle-ax’s smelling like bath powder, wearing orthopedic shoes and a spotless apron. She had mastered the machine, and was shredding carrot and raisin salad having just completed a "patè" made with canned salmon and candied fruit-bits.
It was a calm scene when David arrived fiercely brandishing two onions and a 12-inch stainless steel Henckels Dreadnought, the weapon of choice for budding chefs with a couple of months of cooking school under their belts, and a yen for authenticity.
On loan from Men's Furnishing (First Floor), the poor woman usually dealt with nice businessmen looking for a belt, not Charles Manson look-alikes in chef's whites spattered with old veal blood.
Like Big John Henry, David loudly challenged the machine, demanding from the quaking lady, an onion chop-off. Medium slice.
He was adamant and obnoxious. Shoppers gathered. A manager arrived, a dapper man in a gray blazer and black dickie who gave fleeting consideration of calling security, but after assessing the situation, smiled.
"But of course," he oozed, "let the games begin."
David steeled his blade, shing, shing. The beleaguered demo-lady inserted the feed tube, ka-LICK!
David assumed professional vegetable-cutting stance: back straight, fingers curled inward clutching half the onion. A flurry of slices leapt up impressively from the flash of his blade -- a few rolled off onto the plush taupe carpet.
David was a steel-driving man, Lawd, Lawd, but ... it was no contest. In the bowl of the machine lay a heap of perfect slices of what only a eye-blink before had been a whole onion. The second half of his onion was clutched very professionally in his well-trained fingers.
The crowd murmured in wonder. The manager looked smug, the demo-lady looked proud and relieved. David made some very professional whining noises, and skulked off down the escalator, with his onion slices and French knife wrapped in his apron clutched close to his genitals.
A new era had begun. No longer would a pile of garlic on the hoof stand between a good cook and a great ratatouille. La technique was out; la machine was in.