Two cooks don’t spoil this appealing broth

The Kitchen Whisk is an essential one-stop shop for culinary gods and goddesses

Kate and Mary Masterson of The Kitchen Whisk on Wicklow Street, Dublin. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Kate and Mary Masterson of The Kitchen Whisk on Wicklow Street, Dublin. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

Cooking, baking, gadgets, devices and paraphernalia – all and anything to do with kitchens are an obsession with Mary and Kate Masterson. An absolute addiction, they cheerfully admit, something they’ve always shared.

Things came to a head in February when mother and daughter opened The Kitchen Whisk, a cornucopia of devices, appliances and necessities in the shop of their dreams on Dublin’s Wicklow Street.

Cookery needs in the custom-designed-by-Kate ground floor range from aprons to bain maries. The bright, bay-windowed first floor is kitted out with anything and everything a baker might desire.

The Mastersons were both at decisive life points when the idea of the shop became a discussion topic, then a prospect and, in no time, a reality.

Mary, with the family reared (two boys and Kate) was “at home [in Glenageary], knowing I’d always wanted to do something else with my life”.

Kate, UCD degree completed, a period in South America and at Ballymaloe Cookery School behind her, “felt I had to do what I really wanted to do”. The notion of running a kitchen shop rocked both their boats.

“Our minds were as one on this venture,” Mary says. “We talked about it every day, going over what it would involve. We knew it wasn’t just about buying a few saucepans and opening the doors of a shop.”

Kate agrees: “We always realised it would be full-on, but were both impassioned”.

The right location was imperative. They searched long and hard before finding 28 Wicklow Street, a late 19th-century building that, in earlier incarnations, housed tweed-makers Magee of Donegal, Our Boys clothing and, long before either, a ladies’ couturiers. “We found an old sewing pin when doing the renovation,” Kate says. “It was beside the window; a seamstress of long ago must have worked there in the light.”

Before opening they visited E Dehillerin, the famed 1820 kitchen supply store on Rue Coquillière in Paris. “We went to get ideas,” Kate says, “and found it was all about the product, the most unusual shop ever. We loved it.”

Before opening, they stripped and polished the woodwork, replaced/restored floorboards, widened staircases, positioned a mirror to span two floors, painted everything white, replaced dark banisters with glass, set about putting cookware and baking ware on separate floors, created a walk-in “Aladdin’s cave” of icing paraphernalia in former fitting rooms, and redesigned the front window and doors.

Retailing happens on the ground and first floors, and the rest of the building is used for offices and storage. They opened, “terrified, at 2pm in the afternoon on the 22nd of February”.

“We like to think we’re a one-stop venue for cookery and bakeware,” Mary says, “but if a customer wants something we don’t have, we’ll get it for them.” A recently acquired ceramic vegetable peeler is a case in point.

Both love “trying out things. It’s easier to sell something if we’ve seen it working,” Kate says. “We like to offer a selection for different kinds of customers. Everyone’s interested in food and cooking these days, and it’s important to us that we cater to everyone.”

Kitchen fairs have become a large part of their lives, notably those in Frankfurt (Ambiente) and Birmingham (NEC), held annually within a week of one another. “You need flat shoes,” Mary says. “They’re exhausting and it’s such hard work. But when you go to a fair you really see how things work.”

Gadgets

Things like a self-watering herb keeper, they “can’t keep in the shop, it sells so fast.”

And it’s not just fairs. “The house at home is full of gadgets,” Kate admits. “We never stop eyeing decor and appliances, wherever we go.” A six-blade herb scissors Mary brought home from France “years ago” is a huge seller.

Mary prepares a purchase for posting. “This is for a customer from Sligo who was running to get her hair done. I told her I’d post it to her. It’s so very important to give a customer time, not just take their money and let them off.”

In a month or so, they’ll be up and running an online service (Thekithcenwhisk.ie).

Mother and daughter get on well – “probably better than ever” says Mary, laughing. “We have to tolerate one another more.” She insists Kate is the boss; Kate laughs and doesn’t deny it. “Kate does the display work too; she’s so very very good at it.”

They have terrific staff, both agree. Clara, Allie, Ciaran and Natalie work part-time and The Kitchen Whisk couldn’t do it without them. The men in the family are “very supportive” and the future is full of plans.

“Demonstrations, all sorts,” Kate promises. “We intend being here a long time. A lot of my generation have gone abroad; it’s great to be in Ireland, working for myself, doing this.” Mary agrees, “It’s all so worth it. I work better as my own boss too. I prefer the responsibility.”

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