When she opened Hill’s Kitchen (713 D Street, SE) in May of 2008, Leah Daniels filled a retail gap and provided the perfect accessories for the fresh fruits and veggies at Eastern Market. I spoke to Daniels to see how things are going as she approaches 18 months in business.
Which came first, love of food or love of cooking?
That’s a hard question, mostly because I don’t remember which started first. If you ask my first grade teacher, she says I always wanted a restaurant. I used to be a disaster in the kitchen, but cooking has always been part of my life. Like, as a kid, singing songs about butter and cream while cooking with my brother. In middle school, too, all the holiday presents I gave were always fudge, cookies or truffles. Its something I’ve always done.
You’ve been in business about a year and a half. What’s the transition been like from food lover/chef to retailer?
There actually was a middle step that had nothing to do with food: being a retailer. I ran Riverby Books for three years before I figured out I wanted to have my own shop. I loved being a proprietor, knowing merchandise, knowing customers. It was a happy mix. It wasn’t just a love of food that led me to open a kitchen store. Having had the experience in retail is what made me think about mixing the two.
What does Hill’s Kitchen offer to the novice?
The basics – I have cookie sheets, strainers, salt and pepper shakers. Things you want to use to make your house look cool, too. And I’m more than happy to walk you through something. If a novice walks in and says “I want to make cookies today, what do I need?” I’ll walk them through all the essentials: mixing bowl, spatula, cooling rack … we can even get into mixers if the customer is ready for it.
What does Hill’s Kitchen offer the serious cook? Find this answer and more after the jump…
For the serious cook, I do have some specialty pans, some interesting spoons, spatulas and scrapers with a twist on the original that make the kitchen fun and are an improvement over basic tools. I also carry some unusual knives, copper pots and other things that are a little more intense. I’m not a restaurant supply store – I don’t have everything a professional chef would want, I’m more aimed at the home cook. But I’m happy to order things for people too.
What kinds of classes are you planning to offer in the fall?
One of the things we are working on is announcing classes further in advance so people can plan and complementing that with rolling updates. The classes have been phenomenal. They’ve added life to the store. They make being here and shopping much more alive; given a more rounded experience to the store and a warmth to the space. I am so happy with my chef, Brock Kuhlman! He has worked to design and implement programs and together we’ve been so satisfied with the outcome.
Some of the late fall/winter classes we are planning include gingerbread houses, Thanksgiving dishes, and we have a great pie and cookie class coming up in October. I’m also looking into a root vegetables class. As the season changes, there’ll be several new offerings.
Tell us about other businesses and organizations you partner with.
I’m very involved with CHAMPS (Capitol Hill Association of Merchants and Professionals, now a chamber of commerce). I’m on the board and allow them to use my upstairs space for informational and business development meetings. I also partner with Peregrine to host Fridays at Five (soon to be Four, starting in October) coffee tastings, or “cuppings”, where Ryan [Jensen of Peregrine] leads guests through a discussion of 3 coffees. I’m also involved with Capitol Hill Community Foundation where the Daniels family will again be hosting a dinner for A Literary Feast. Of course, I support lots of local businesses. For instance, I sell Uncle Brutha’s hot sauce and Jon Wye belts and aprons. [Look for a future Local Business feature on Jon Wye at THIH.]
Any trends in cooking or baking that have you really excited?
I’m thrilled about the change over to cast iron Dutch ovens. They’ve been around but with the movie “Julie and Julia” plus the fall coming, they’re becoming really popular. I’ll have some nice ones from Staub in the store. They’re so versatile and people understand that you can get one really nice pot to use for everything. It is worth the investment.
What tools should no cook be without?
Silicone spatula, a fish or fritter turner, really quality and trustworthy measuring cups and spoons, a nice pepper grinder, chef’s knife, paring knife and a good cutting board. In addition to serious cooking tools, I try really hard to have fun gift items – colorful, beautiful things you can leave out on the counter. We are the perfect place for wedding presents and your gift registry.
What’s your greatest foodie indulgence?
Angel pie: a meringue with lemon curd and whipped cream. It’s like lemon air.
Who would you most want to cook with?
Deborah Madison. She writes cookbooks on vegetarian and farm fresh cooking. I think she’d have great insight on how to mold food to communities and where we live.
Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. I also love Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything. Barefoot Contessa also has some great ideas. Bonny Wolf, local author of Talking With My Mouth Full and the food commentator for NPR, is another great option.
“Go to” ingredient and tool?
Garlic and my paring knife.
Summer BBQ or Thanksgiving with the family?
Cookie or cupcake?
Cookie, no question. But I’d take cake over a cookie. Vanilla Cake with vanilla icing
Clean as you go or leave it until the end?
Clean as you go!
Tell us about your favorite find at Hill’s Kitchen!