Did you guys know that today is Chuck Williams Day? It's also his 99th birthday!! For those of you who have been living under a rock, Chuck Williams is the founder of Williams-Sonoma. I thought long and hard about what I should make to celebrate and honor such an extraordinary man. Definitely some kind of cake. Maybe a mini cake? And then it hit me. This is the only cake that is fitting for a day like today. I made Merveilleux to celebrate Chuck's 99th. Wish I could ship it over to ya, Chuck! I promise that Moses and I will eat every last bite for you instead though.
What's a Merveilleux? It's a mini cake that's round, delicate, and a bit unexpected--it's marvelous . The cake itself is made up of whipped cream, meringue and flakes of chocolate or specks of speculoos. It hails from Belgium and is popular in France, and I think it's the perfect cake to celebrate the icon that is Chuck Williams. If you want to make one to toast Mr. Williams, check out David Lebovitz's My Paris Kitchen. He has a lovely recipe for these beauties. I used some Nielsen-Massey vanilla bean paste for the whipped cream and orange blossom water in the meringues.
Prior to moving to Los Angeles, I worked at one of my favorite companies in the entire world, Williams-Sonoma. To give a little background, I was on the eCommerce team managing and coordinating the photography for the site. I worked with everyone from the ever talented web designers and incredible merchant and buyer teams to the extremely gifted and hard working photo teams including extremely inspiring food stylists, prop stylists, and photographers for all the beautiful WS photo shoots. Basically, I was lucky enough to work with quite a few teams within WS. And because I worked with so many amazing teams on a daily basis, I deem myself extra lucky because I was able to build relationships with the people of Williams-Sonoma. As Chuck said, "One thing is certain: People are the most important part of Williams-Sonoma, Inc." And man, Chuck really knew how to bring people together. He is a living legend and someone who truly inspires us all.
Some of my favorite products like iconic Le Creuset cookware, Nordic Ware bundt pans, Kitchen Aid stand mixers, and even the amazing Nielsen-Massey vanillas we all love were either imported, popularized, or made available to us (home cooks and bakers) thanks to Chuck's foresight and persistence. As a former WS employee, I may have a little more insight into the people behind WS than most of you and I'd like to share some of that today because I think that in order to properly honor Chuck, we also need to look at the people who have contributed to the company he built.
I'd love to share a quick story of how Nielsen-Massey products were discovered by Chuck and brought to us, the consumer. It's from 50 Years Tells a Story, which is a book that is given to every Williams-Sonoma employee on their first day with the company. It's a book of stories for the people of Williams-Sonoma from the people of Williams-Sonoma (associates, vendors, and customers). In it, Matt Nielsen, President of Nielsen-Massey Vanillas, details how Chuck showed them (Nielsen-Massey) that home cooks want what professional bakers prefer, which is damn good vanilla. In the early 1980s, Chuck Williams happened into a cooking school in Chicago where Nielsen Massey was selling (as a favor to the school) a very small bottling of around 200 bottle a year. At the time, Nielsen Massey only sold their three types of vanilla--Madagascan, Tahitian, and Mexican, exclusively to food industry professionals. Well that changed the minute Chuck walked into that cooking school. He called Matt Nielsen's father and asked to order some and when the answer was no, he persisted until the answer was yes. And then he threw them a curve ball and put in an order for a few thousand bottles. The rest is history. Nielsen-Massey is my favorite brand of extracts (they sell more than vanilla now) and I have Chuck to thank for bringing that to me, the consumer.
Thank you, Chuck Williams. You have inspired "chefs" all over the world and changed the way we cook at home. I am proud to have been a part of the incredible company you built and am so honored and humbled to wish you a very happy 99th birthday. And thank you to the city of Sonoma for proclaiming today, October 2nd, Chuck Williams Day. (#ChuckWilliamsDay) If any of you happen to be in Sonoma, I strongly suggest you head over to the newest/oldest Williams-Sonoma. Williams-Sonoma is returning to Sonoma, the place where Chuck Williams opened up his first store in 1956. After all these years, they're reopening that original location as both a landmark store and cooking school.