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Less is More at Catalina Cooking Store

Quality equipment and cooking tips go hand-in-hand at the recently opened Catalina Cooking Store on Catalina Avenue in Riviera Village.

Don’t let the pricey copper cookware, fancy Japanese knives and aged Balsamic vinegars fool you. The is all about quality, yes, but it’s also about simplifying the process of food preparation.

If Don Koeberle, owner of Riviera Village’s newest addition to Catalina Avenue, has his way, he and his staff will not only take the mystery out of cooking, they will demonstrate why less is more.

"I want to try to get people to understand (that) if you know just a few simple things, you can make anything," said Koeberle, 46, who launched his retail store without fanfare on March 1. (A grand opening is planned for mid-April.) "Cooking is not all so precious that people should be intimidated by it."

Koeberle, a former advertising executive whose love of cooking propelled him to culinary school, combines a passion for good food with an academic’s grasp of how best to prepare it—especially the equipment to use.

"People get overwhelmed by details … intimidated by following recipes," said the graying, blue-eyed father of three. "They don't realize (that) if you have a good pan, a good pair of tongs, a good spatula, (and know) just a few basics, cooking is easy."

And oh, yes, it helps to have a few good knives.

"An 8- or 10-inch chef's knife is the main knife a cook will use for 90 percent of the tasks at hand," he said. "And after that, probably a paring and maybe a serrated or bread knife.”

Although he's always cooked, Koeberle, who lives in Rolling Hills with wife, Lianne, began "cooking every meal every night" after the kids (Chris, 7, Andy, 5, and Kate, 4) started to come along.

"My wife works for an investment firm (The Capital Group) downtown and is very busy with her job," said the Redondo store owner, who used to travel a great deal in his capacity as a writer of TV commercials for Lexus, Toyota, Nissan, Nestle and more.

Several years ago, he began to ponder what he could do "that would be fun and keep me more in the area."

The idea of a retail cooking store came to mind, he said, because he's "really into cooking" and because he couldn’t find commercial quality supplies in the area. "I had to go to Surfas (Restaurant Supply), the biggest cooking store in Los Angeles," or Sur La Table in Culver City.  

His store "is not going to be everything to everybody," he said. He wants to appeal to "serious cooks" and those aiming to improve.

While places like in Palos Verdes cater to the bridal registry crowd, and Bed Bath & Beyond offers "mass retail type items," the Cooking Store's inventory is largely "quality cookware," he said.

"Everything here, if I don’t use it myself, I know it by reputation," he said. He indicated the floor-to-ceiling shelves of All-Clad stainless steel cookware, Swiss Diamond non-stick pans, enameled cast iron cookware by Staub, etc.

Although all manner of prep tools—from whisks to J.A. Henckels paring knives—are decoratively displayed, you won’t find anything "cutesy" at the store, Koeberle cautioned.

"A whole world of equipment consists of one-use tools, which are silly," he said, things that simply slice an egg or "something where you pound the top and it chops."

Along with his crusade to get people away from processed food, he wants to focus on "people who love to cook and know how to use the right equipment in the right way."

Even if a customer doesn’t know a Magic Line from a Bella Cucina, however, Koeberle and his staff of four are all skilled in the culinary arts and able to elaborate at length on the benefits of, say, a stainless steel product over non-stick.

The educational aspects, in fact, may be the most interesting part of shopping at the Cooking Store.

Even if you can’t afford the French copper cookware from Mauviel ($200 to $600 per item), it's fascinating to learn how it is made. Copper is “the best thing in the world to cook with because it conducts heat so efficiently, which is why it is so expensive,” Koeberle said.

The reason copper is layered with stainless steel on the inside is because stainless is the best surface to cook on, “so you get the best of both worlds,” he added about the line that has been around since 1830.

On the other hand, Koeberle carries “quality pans that start at $30,” he said, aluminum bakeware that begins at $5. "I don't want people saying we're just like William Sonoma—too expensive—because we're not."

Other than some plain white dishes and ramekins, you won’t find tableware at the store. “Good restaurants serve on white plates, because that’s what makes the food look good," Koeberle explained. "Never use colored plates.”

And while Koeberle does carry a few “high-quality cookbooks for inspiration,” he neither follows recipes nor uses non-stick pans—unless for eggs or omelets.

Preferring stainless steel pans, he cooks by instinct. “Once you realize how to use ingredients and how to use flavors, you don’t need recipes,” he said.

He likes to cook “everything,” he said, launching into a detailed description of one recent meal, a pan-roasted chicken, which he “cooked under a brick to get the skin crispy,” and served with cauliflower puree and roasted fennel and tapenade (ordinarily a mix of olives, capers, anchovies and olive oil).

Tapenades, flavored olive oils, aged balsamics and flavored finishing salts (black truffle, smoked, Thai ginger, jalapeno, roasted garlic salt, etc.) are musts in Koeberle's Rolling Hills' kitchen, as well as in his store. (He even has balsamic testers.)

Basically, he said, “cooking is technique driven.” Knowing when to use olive oil as opposed to peanut or canola or butter (or a combination) is a requisite.

“Olive oil has a burn temperature, so it will smoke if too high a heat,” he said. “Every oil has its own burn temperature, so generally you want to use olive oil for sautéing vegetables, or anything where you want to add a little flavor.”

Koeberle plans to offer cooking demos, as well as classes, in the near future. “We don’t have a kitchen here, but I want to build out a kitchen eventually.”

Doing what he loves and sharing his knowledge are the best rewards, he said, along with the chefs, cooks and caterers who swoon with delight when they enter his store.

“I’ve had people come in and say, ‘Finally! I can finally get aluminum cake pans. I haven’t been able to find those anywhere.’”

Koeberle, who has lived in the South Bay for 30 years, is particularly happy with his location at 1915 S. Catalina Ave. near the intersection of Palos Verdes Boulevard. “All my life is up in Palos Verdes, and I feel I can serve that area, as well as down here,” he said.

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