Alexandria People at Work: It’s All About the Pan

Alexandria People at Work: It’s All About the Pan

Pamela Simon has driven in from Laurel, Md., with eight Henckel knives to be sharpened and to pick up an order of specialty cocoa. She said, “Working here would be my dream job.”

Pamela Simon has driven in from Laurel, Md., with eight Henckel knives to be sharpened and to pick up an order of specialty cocoa. She said, “Working here would be my dream job.” Photo by Shirley Ruhe/Gazette Packet


Nancy Pollard, owner of La Cuisine on Cameron Street since 1970, stands in front of rows of Mauviel copper saucepans and fry pans, “the best for conducting heat.” Pollard said her focus is on selling good solid classic cookware.

Mauviel copper saucepans and fry pans hang on pegs across the wall in back of the counter at La Cuisine on Cameron Street. Nancy Pollard, who opened La Cuisine in 1970, explains these pans are good for cooking because copper is the best heat conductor. Pollard had been thinking about opening her store for a while because she was a German language student and saw that "cooking in Europe was a really different deal.” They had commercially designed cookware that you didn't see in American shops. “What we do is really work toward selling good solid classic cookware." She also has equipment and ingredients that are difficult to find.

"I am a cook,” Pollard said, “but was really fortunate to cook with the first American woman who had taken and finished the hard core course at the Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. She just walked into my store one day and we cooked together 2-3 times a week in her kitchen until she died. I learned a lot of classic cooking techniques from her."

Pollard said it helps that she is married to a "wine maniac" so it works both ways. Her husband chooses a wine to go with her dinner or he has a particular wine and requests that she find for instance a lamb recipe to go with it. Tonight she is making gnocchi with smoked tomatoes, "ridiculously easy; I'm embarrassed to even tell you." Pollard says she has a game she plays with herself. Since her husband buys all the needed paper products at the grocery store, she tries to see whether she can shop only at the farmer's markets from April-November.

A number of Pollard's customers come in for advice. "I made a recipe and it didn't turn out; can you help me?" Or "I bought a set of cookware and don't use all of the pieces." Pollard says one of her big pieces of advice is to buy as you need it. "You might find that you need two saucepans of the same size or don't cook anything in the oven." She says that you have to hold a knife in your hand before buying it or you may buy an 8-inch knife you will never use. Pollard said, "We still carry carbon knives. It's kind of a cult. They are easier to sharpen at home."

A customer walks in the door with her umbrella and a large black leather case. Pamela Simon has driven in from Laurel, Md., with 8 Henckel knives to be sharpened. "I love to cook and I would be here more if I didn't live so far away," Simon said, "They sell really high quality cooking equipment here. This would be my dream job."


Nancy Pollard says La Cuisine carries a number of items of cookware and ingredients that are difficult to find such as the poire extract she pulls out of the case. “The French have different extracts than we have in America.”

Pollard says all of the employees in the store are always scouting out new products and "sometimes customers come in and recommend things and ask us to try them." She chooses a small glass bottle from a row and twists open the cap. "Smell this. It's poire. They have different extracts in France than we have in America." She says she has brought in the chocolate from Chocolate House in Lyon for the last 35 years, but only at Christmas. She points to a new section of jams by Philippe Bruneton, meilleur confiturier de France. "And we have this incredible rinforzato Italian pizza flour that makes Neapolitan pizza like it should be." She says she has seen a renaissance of Italian ingredients and restaurants popping up, and she has a daughter living in Italy who helps make suggestions on Italian products.

The three most popular items? She pulls a line cook spatula from its hangar on the wall. "If you have anything in the store, this is it. It is also called a fish spatula but we call it a line spatula because I sell hundreds to line cooks in restaurants." The second item is cooking tongs, "the best quality of any" and finally the microplane. She said, "We have a few things for fun, too," picking up a can of bacon Band-aids. Pollard says she has noticed that the younger 20- and 30-yera-olds are much more into cooking "than their older brothers and sisters. There is so much Internet research available now and you can try things out yourself." She speculates there were a couple of generations where people didn't sit down to dinner together. She sees a change in patterns as evidenced by the new compost pile in Alexandria. "You have to cook to get compost."

“Bye bye Miss American pie" plays in the adjoining office and Nikka, the German shepherd rescue dog, barks twice to announce another customer.