Interview with Laura Wilson, the Fearless Cook
(from the April 2021 Zafferano America Dealer Newsletter)
Tell us about yourself
I grew up in Muncie, Indiana. My mom was a great cook and entertainer, and I learned so much from her. Also, 4-H youth club was huge in the county, so I took all the cooking sections I could! I have a Masters degree in Counseling, and after teaching History and Economics for three years, I became a Communicable Disease Epidemiologist. I quit working outside of the home when my first son was born. We had dinner around the table almost every night, and now my boys are pretty darned good cooks themselves. They will eat anything and I attribute that to cooking varied and interesting meals when they were young.
Tell us about your business
I got a job at Williams Sonoma when my youngest hit high school, and soon I was teaching many of the cooking classes. Then I began selling chicken pot pies out of my SUV in the high school parking lot with my friend. We were really good cooks and people bought them like you cannot believe! It was crazy.
Then I opened a little pastry business, hence the parent name La Dolce Vita -- The Sweet Life -- from my home kitchen. After I learned I was breaking every Board of Health rule in the book, I rented a space in my town, and got all the proper licenses. I decided to go to culinary school after another chef made fun of me when I wanted to do a fundraiser dinner with local women chefs, saying, "she's not areal chef and I won't cook with her." I was so mad, because I had been working very hard in my tiny shop.
I decided to reach for the top and applied and was accepted to Le Cordon Bleu, Paris. I cannot even begin to describe how hard it was. It is really the old fashioned brigade system, where there is no talking during cooking, no music, the chef is always right, all in French with an English translator, racing to finish each day. Le Cordon Bleu was so different from a boot camp I took later at the Culinary Institute of America in California, where questions and participation were encouraged. But I finished -- whew it was something else! I will say that the strict and oppressive regime demanded by the French chefs taught me incredible discipline and perfection. And living in Paris -- now that was amazing. I truly am a Francophile now and still take French lessons from a tutor here.
I combined my restaurant and shop into one place and moved it from the little town of Roanoke to Fort Wayne. I offer cooking classes, private dinners and lunches, do one wedding a year on our property, and take people on culinary trips to Europe every fall. Each year I seem to add another thing. This year it was Zafferano’s amazing lamps, Indiana Impressionist oil paintings, and Situ lights to light them.
Our clientele are people who like to entertain, take care of their home, and most of them, not all, like to cook. All like to be cooked for! About 30% of our customers are men. I see people wanting experiences now. And with the Zafferano lights, they can set a beautiful table inside or light up the darkness of their table al fresco, highlight a place on a bookshelf where they do not have a plug, even add a soft light to a baby's room.
What do you think makes your business unique?
I sell beautiful and well made items that I would want in my home. I love to offer American-made products and products from Europe. I want to have the unusual that you did not know you needed until you walked through our door.
I think what makes my business unique is that I have been to culinary school, I have traveled the world, and I can really give sound advice, without being snobby or pushy. I know how to sous vide, make a mille feuille, brioche, béarnaise, use a European range, and even bone a duck. I have been to Venice and have been to the island of Murano (so I can describe your glassware!!) and I know quality. Plus I have about the nicest staff in town. We gift wrap, we hold babies, we let people use our bathroom!
How did you discover Zafferano?
I saw this sexy, small light in a store and bought one. I loved it and thought, I HAVE to sell these!
How long have you been a Zafferano dealer?
Only a year.
Which Zafferano products do you carry?
The Poldina lamps and several designs of your glasses.
What do you love about Zafferano products?
I love the quality. I love that I can call you and talk to a HUMAN. I love the styling of all your lights. I am the only one to offer them in Northeast Indiana.
Which product has been most successful with your clientele?
The Poldina lamp in various colors. All colors seem to sell equally; even the more expensive metallic do very well.
The past year has been a challenge for so many of us. How has your business pivoted during the past year to adapt?
Per our governor, I could stay open for carry out during our state shutdown. Only one employee would work, so he and I worked like dogs. We would offer three different main courses with various sides each week -- everything, of course, made in house from pasta to all desserts. We paired up with a neighboring restaurant and did some very cool things with that chef. We brought our items out curbside, delivered, delivered products as well -- anything I could think of that would still be safe. I did a Mother's Day Tea Party in a beautiful box, Father's Day Grill Party in a masculine thermal bag -- just so many creative things to stay afloat. Our customers were very, very supportive! Unfortunately, like so many other small businesses, we did not get any government funds, but I am proud to say, we survived COVID with moxie and elbow grease. All of it proved Fearless Cook really is fearless.