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Chuck Williams museum to be centerpiece of new Copia

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The Culinary Institute of America, which recently bought the old Copia site next to Oxbow Public Market in downtown Napa, just announced that it will develop the Chuck Williams Culinary Arts Museum at Copia.

The culinary museum will be the centerpiece of the Culinary Institute of America’s new Copia campus, which will also offer culinary business classes and is expected to draw a wide range of people interested in food, cookware, culinary history and food culture.

Chuck Williams founded his now international Williams-Sonoma right here in Sonoma in 1956, where the current corporation bought the original building next to the U.S. Post Office on Broadway, restored the building, and replicated that first shop.

The Chuck Williams Culinary Arts Museum is funded partly through a gift from the estate of Williams, who died Dec. 5, 2015, at age 100.

The extensive display of kitchen items collected within his lifetime will honor his legacy and ensure that culinary enthusiasts will always learn from and remember the history and traditions of our culinary heritage.

The story began in 1952, when Williams took a three-month trip to Europe and Scandinavia with friends from Sonoma and saw what cooks were using in their home kitchens. He loved collecting and returned to Europe many times, scouring shops, restaurants, and factories for high-quality cookware and specialty foods he could introduce to cooks in the United States.

In 1956, he opened his first cookware store in Sonoma and moved it to San Francisco in 1958 at the urging of friends. He imported many items that would become American kitchen classics, such as enameled cast-iron pots, Mauviel Copper Cookware, Apilco and Pillivuyt porcelains, tart tins, kugelhopfs, crêpe pans, the Cuisinart food processor and Balsamic vinegar.

Wade Bentson, Williams-Sonoma’s first employee who now serves as the director of the Williams estate and as the museum’s curator, said, “Chuck always placed a great deal of emphasis on education, and he was thrilled to know that future generations of CIA students and visitors to the CIA at Copia will benefit from this gift.”

The collection represents a rich heritage of the culinary arts from around the world and includes treasures from the 18th and 19th centuries – a batterie de cuisine of copper cookware from 1890s France; ceramic and metal pudding, chocolate, and ice cream molds; and European and Early American baking and pastry equipment from the early 1900s. Among the nearly 4,000 artifacts are bread baking and culinary tools, specialty cookware, tableware, large and small appliances and cookbooks. Additional items will be curated for temporary exhibits.

A frequent visitor to the new/old Sonoma Williams-Sonoma, Janet Hayes, president of the Williams-Sonoma brand, said, “We believe that this museum, together with the 2014 re-opening of Chuck’s original store in Sonoma, will allow Chuck’s passion for creating a culinary community to thrive and inspire visitors to the region and future generations, just as he inspired us.”

Chuck Williams was inducted into the Culinary Institute of America’s Hall of Fame in 2002, having helped launch the careers of many young culinarians through CIA scholarships, and his generosity created the Williams Center for Flavor Discovery at the college’s Greystone campus in St. Helena.

The Chuck Williams Culinary Arts Museum at the Culinary Institute of America at Copia is expected to open in spring 2017.