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Chuck Williams on the Well-Stocked Pantry

Chuck Williams on the Well-Stocked Pantry
It's hard to imagine it today, but when we first opened our doors in 1958, olive oil, wine vinegar, sea salt, exotic peppercorns, Madagascar vanilla and Italian pasta were virtually unheard of in American kitchens. All that would soon change. More than French kitchenware caught Chuck Williams' attention during trips abroad in those early days.

"We were the only shop to have so many of the special French and Italian food items back then," he remembers. "We found that customers were interested in something new and different—having a pepper grinder for the first time and grinding fresh pepper over your salad or on your steak. You could taste the difference. We had all of these new tastes for them to try."

He also found a raft of ingredients that tasted so very different from the mass-produced, factory products of the era. Many were from artisanal producers who took pride in doing things the old-fashioned way. Excited to introduce his delicious discoveries to our customers, he began to offer fine pantry foods alongside gleaming French copper pots and hand-forged French chef's knives.

When your pantry is stocked with premium ingredients, you'll taste a remarkable difference in everything you cook. Williams-Sonoma has been the source for fine food products for over 45 years.

Using Your Pantry
As a time-saver, a well-stocked pantry can't be beat for everyday cooking and entertaining. It will also take your meals beyond the usual, letting you try out something new on the spur of the moment. Whether you are stocking a pantry from scratch or adding to the basics, here is Chuck Williams' advice: Have on hand the foods that bring your favorite cuisines to life, from the tried and true to the newly discovered. Update your pantry as you change your menus to reflect the seasons and the holidays. Buy quantities that you'll use in a reasonable amount of time.

Our Basic Pantry
We take pride in our ever-expanding pantry assortment. At its core is the following basic collection of staples that belong in every kitchen. It reflects Chuck Williams' lifelong dedication to cooking good, simple food at home with the finest ingredients. Use it as a guide to help you decide exactly what you need.

OLIVE OILS
For best results, use the right oil for the task. Select oils to cook with and others to drizzle over grilled meats, fish, vegetables and pizza; toss with pasta; blend into vinaigrettes; or use as a dip for crusty breads.
Cooking oils: Options are everyday cooking oil and delicate grapeseed oil, which has a high smoke point that permits high-heat cooking and smokeless frying and sautéing.
Finishing oils: These include extra-virgin estate-grown olive oils and flavor-infused olive oils.
Specialty oils: Extra-virgin olive oils, infused olive oils and dipping oils enhance appetizers, salads and main courses.

VINEGARS
Balsamic vinegar: Drizzled or splashed on as a condiment only, it adds unforgettable flavor to salads, roasted meat, vegetables and fruits.Wine vinegar: This is the classic partner to a fine olive oil in any vinaigrette worth its salt.

CONDIMENTS
Mustard: Use it to zestfully lift vinaigrettes and add an extra dash of brightness to baked fish, veal chops, a rack of lamb and grilled sausages.

INGREDIENTS
Sea Salt: There are two kinds—one for cooking and the other light, delicate crystals for sprinkling over foods to add distinctive flavor just before serving.
Stock: The basis of good cooking, stocks add depth to everything from soups and sauces to stews and risotto.
Demi-Glace: A super-concentrated sauce, it adds richness and savor to a wide variety of dishes.
Extracts: Citrus oils, nut oils and fine vanilla beans infuse baked goods, sauces and savory dishes with delightful flavor and fragrance.
Seasonings: Convenient dry herbs packaged as whole leaves release more intense flavors when crushed before using. Use whole peppercorns ground on the spot for maximum impact.

PRESERVES
The best are made from fruits harvested at their peak and prepared with only small amounts of added sugar, which preserves the fruits' natural flavor. Spread it on toast, spoon it over a dessert or use it in baking.

DRY MIXES
Preservative-free mixes make it simple to enjoy home-baked cakes, breads and muffins, as well as breakfast favorites like waffles and pancakes. They're foolproof.

PASTAS & GRAINS
High-quality dried pastas hold sauces well, retain their shapes when cooked and taste delicious. For creamy, authentic risottos, you need a specialty Italian rice with a high starch content.

SAUCES
Pasta Sauces: Use these versatile sauces to give pasta instant Italian flavor that tastes homemade. They also make delicious toppings for toasted country-style bread or focaccia.
Barbecue Sauces: Vibrant and spicy, they provide an easy way to give grilled foods rich, hearty flavor. They're also delicious as a sandwich spread or vegetable dip, for enriching baked beans or giving a hot dog extra personality.

BEVERAGES
Be well supplied to quench every thirst: Include a full-bodied coffee or espresso, fresh fruit drinks to pass at brunch or to flavor champagne or sparkling water, and a mix for party cocktails.

SNACKS
Stock simple, but savory appetizers to pair with a glass of wine, from crunchy tidbits to pop in your mouth to savory cheese crackers.

TOPPINGS
A gooey fudge or caramel sauce creates an instant dessert when drizzled over a simple pound cake or your favorite ice cream.

ENTERTAINING
For After-Dinner: Have luscious chocolate-covered sweets to pass with coffee.
For the Bar: Maintain a supply of olives, cocktail onions, cherries and lemon twists.