In pursuit of the French connection (From the Spring 2011 issue of SONOMA)
Sarah and her 19th Century clock from a train station in Normandy. It's yours for $20,000.
Sonoma's number one Francophile. What's up with the French fascination?
Look at this piece. (She holds up a ceramic bowl.) It's filled with whimsy and it's a sculpture and it's a piece of art. It's also a utilitarian thing. That's what the French do. It's the details. If you go into a chocolate shop in France and order a piece of chocolate it takes them half an hour-well not half an hour, but a while-to complete the transaction. They take such care. They treasure this piece of chocolate. They wrap it and they put this perfect bow on it and this perfect seal on it. It's a lot of attention to detail. It's je ne sais quoi. When you go to Paris, it's incredible, but you can't really even say what it is. You can't put your finger on one thing because you go and you have the most amazing meal, or you go to the flower shop and every flower is extraordinary...it's amazing. It's the way they do things. They strive for perfection, I think.
So you speak French.
A little. I've been trying. I went to France for a month to take this intensive language program. It is imperative that when you walk into a store that you have a little exchange before you look around. For sure you have to say au revoir, merci, all the niceties, the salutations. I study three times a week on my computer. Each year I get a little bit better at the French language.
You're in France every September. Eating. Drinking. Shopping. Sounds dreamy. Walk us through it.
We go to France, and we usually spend a couple of days in Paris. And then the fairs in the south. We go to Avignon, stay in the town of Avignon. There are three days of antique shows. They're all different dealers but within an hour or two of each other. One is on Wednesday, one's on Thursday, one's on Friday. We hit 'em all. We see a lot of the dealers from Paris down there. They come in and do their cherry-picking. Everybody's shopping. People from Spain, people from Italy. Not just French antiques, other European antiques.
Do you have a mouse in your pocket?
(smiles) Terry Wicks and I go together. Without Terry I don't know if I would even keep the doors open. We're birds of a feather. She's number two of seven children, I'm number two of nine. We get each other. It's very hard to travel with people, all the dynamics. But for whatever reason it's really easy with her, always has been. We're drawn to the same things. Either one of us could go on a buying trip, but we always go together. And Darius, my husband, loves to go on these treasure hunts.
Your son, Tyge, is 14 months old. Will he tag along too?
Yes. I want him to learn how to travel and enjoy the hunt like I do. He's going to be with me for the next 18 years, so I figure... He's so juicy right now. He's 14 months and it's 'Mama, Mama.' He's walking and I just...even now...I thought it would wear off...but I want to cry. We tried for eight years to have a baby so every day I just...he's so charming. He blows kisses. I have no idea who taught him to do that.
What are your favorite objects in the store?
I love the opera house (14k). I love the giant clock (18k). I love the big stone window that's now at Ramekins. (Don't ask.)
Got anything for the little people?
The water balls. ($2.50-$5.50) Everybody's favorite thing.
Ramekins is the cooking school on Spain Street. How long have you owned that business?
Two years. We're trying to breathe some new life into it. We're doing culinary camps where people come and we take them to Oak Hill Farm and learn about sustainability and organic farming, then the basics of cooking: braising, sautéing, baking... And then off to Opus One to learn a little about wine. We're trying to get a dinner at the French Laundry so everybody can experience that as a sort of graduation. We're trying to build something comprehensive. We're working on a catering arm. We have a sommelier who's very educated and doing a lot of little boutique wines so that we can provide people a whole universe of tastes. We did fourteen weddings this year. And if you want to bring your people to do team-building exercises, you choose a chef, you pick the menu. You cook together and eat afterward. Private cooking classes really bring people together. You have a glass of wine to break the ice, you're cooking... Rehearsal dinners are great for private classes too, with both sides of the family sitting down to a meal they've prepared together. It's a good bonding experience.
Whew. Anything else?
We do a kids cooking camp in summer for kids ages 9-12. Last year was our first year, and we had the older kids mixed in with the younger ones. We're refining the concept for this summer.
Your annual French Flea Market is always on my calendar. Love it.
Every year, third weekend in May. This year it's the 20-21st. Last year was the busiest flea market we've ever had. There was Sonoma Plein Air, Sonoma Jazz+, and there was our thing. There were so many people in town it was just ridiculous. The stuff you can find back there at the market...it's so reasonably priced.
The faux-Frenchy sidewalk singer is fantastic.
He'll be back. And a gal will be here making crêpes.
You're quite the dynamo, Sarah Anderson. No dust on you.
(laughs) I'm a little whirling dervish. I never really know whether I'm coming or going.
I have to confess to a small case of envy. Hanging with the culinary elite, antiquing the French countryside...
Well, we're trying to put together a trip right now with Ramekins and Chateau Sonoma. There's a twelve-room chateau outside of Bordeaux we can rent out. We'll start with twelve people and have a cooking-slash-antique week, coordinating it around the fairs. I'm trying to put it together for this September. I'll know in the next few weeks if all the moving parts come together. Between the foodies and people who like to antique, I think there could be a market for it. People can throw their stuff onto the container and get it back for a very reasonable price so they won't have to spend so much on shipping. A lot of women come in here and say, 'Oh that sounds like such a fun thing to do.' The economy is what it is, but I think there are still people out there who might want that.
Yes, please, and thank you very much. How much?
Around five thousand.
Your shop is so beautiful. Do these lovely things make you happy?
I thought after doing this for about five years, 'What am I doing? How do I give back?' People spend their lives building houses for the poor, or doing some noble mission. I felt like there was something missing. But people would say, 'By having this shop and teaching people how to use things in a different way, you're sort of in the business of recycling. Going and finding peoples' old junk and bringing it here and repurposing it.' I felt much better then. It really is environmentally correct. We're recycling furniture.
From the Spring 2011 issue of SONOMA