Cook Kitchen Boutique in Red Bluff
By Melissa Mendonca
Cooking for the HeartDecember 2015
By Melissa Mendonca
Photos: Alexis LeClair
Four big, bold letters stand above the door at 643 Main St. in downtown Red Bluff. COOK, they spell out. It’s a short, simple word, but to store owner Erin McCarthy, it represents the essence of a life mission that she’s intentionally set out to accomplish. “I want to provide tools that inspire people to cook and I want to connect people to our local agriculture, to the food they’re eating,” she says. “I think that’s really the whole point: know your food, know your farmer.”
While the mission is crystal clear now, it wasn’t always. McCarthy’s journey to COOK has had many stops along the way, each one preparing her to land on Main Street, where landlord Janel Fitzgerald said, “We’ve been waiting for you!” when McCarthy finally decided to call on a property and develop a brick-and-mortar business.
A dietitian, McCarthy has worked in private clinical, public and community settings, including time at Head Start, in areas both urban and rural, from the Bay Area to the North State. While she found a level of satisfaction at each location, she says, “Nothing in the box was what I really wanted to do.” When she quit her last job, she started taking a long look at “what I could do in the world of nutrition that wasn’t what I had already done.”
She consulted a good friend, saying, “I was hoping she’d have this grandiose plan for me.” Instead, she got a simple, “You were meant to do something, and whenever you figure out what it is, you should just do it” – which meant it was time to reflect on her experiences and get clear with her goals.
She noticed a recurring theme with her clients that wove through all settings she had worked in. “No one would know the basics about their food,” she says. “I kept thinking, ‘I’ve got to figure out how to teach people how to cook.’”
Then she went on a hike with Red Bluff area friends and they ended up in downtown Red Bluff after. The Palo Cedro native who had been living in the Bay Area was smitten. There was a “For Rent” sign in the window of a sweet little building. Everything clicked together for McCarthy. “It never even felt like a risk because it happened so fast and I didn’t even know what I was getting into,” she says with a huge smile. “Every step of the way it’s been completely meant to be.”
What has developed is a kitchen boutique that encompasses “everything I love,” says McCarthy. Quality kitchen tools with unique design and impeccable construction are offered, but most exciting to McCarthy is the kitchen space for cooking classes and cold area for grab-and-go offerings of locally produced goods.
People gather around these last two areas, making connections, sharing ideas and supporting each other. “Everyone kind of finds each other,” she says, noting with pride how excited she is to work with local food producers by connecting them with new consumers. An early connection was with chef Tiffany Greer, who was starting up Fork and Spoon around the same time COOK was being developed. Greer started bringing in fresh salads that customers could grab from the refrigerator on a lunch break. She has expanded her role to include teaching cooking classes, always focusing on locally produced foods.
“We have so many people who are producing in this community,” says McCarthy. “It’s not difficult to source things locally.” Among the items in the cold case at COOK are Shasta Kombucha, Salt and Savor Sauerkraut of Dunsmuir, raw milk cheese from Pedroso and pork, beef, chicken and eggs from several local ranchers.
Although these are all available to customers who walk in for them, she says it’s particularly fun when customers meet the producers at cooking classes and special tasting events she holds. “I think the farmers and vendors are always kind of surprised by the questions,” she says, noting that people yearn to know more about the food they are buying. “Once you understand who you’re supporting with your dollar, it means so much more.”
This opportunity to connect people and help them find better routes to health through local nutrition has been the payoff for the leaps of faith McCarthy took finding her passion as an entrepreneur. “I’m not just supporting myself, but I’m supporting other people as well, and that’s what matters to me,” she says. “I feel settled, like I’ve landed. It feels like I’m part of something bigger, too. Like I’m growing this community.”
643 Main St., Red Bluff