In the kitchen with Barry James

Posted on 3/01/2019

How would you describe your kitchen?
My kitchen is the heart of the house! A few years ago, I removed the wall between the kitchen and dining room to make it more a more open and sociable area. Moving the cooker to a central island also meant I was able to talk and cook with my friends and family. I like a clean and clear space to work in, so everything must have its place, and the island work top is great and wide enough so I can get my guests to help with any prep work.

What are your favourite dishes to cook or prepare in it?
With winter almost here, I love to make homemade soups. Being on the road a lot with work means that I used to have a lot of waste veg and leftover food which ended up composted or thrown away but about a year of starting at Burton McCall we took on a new brand called Bamix. This powerful hand-held food processor changed the way I looked at food that I would normally discard but now use in making fresh soups and take them on the road with me in my Stanley food jar which keeps it nice and hot right into the afternoon.
I love a good steak dinner which I would say I cook once a week at home with friends and I use my Fissler crispy pan for this, the way this pan cooks blows my mind, the cooking surface has raised ripples on the base, which has less surface for the steak to stick to on this stainless-steel pan. I use no oil in this pan just juices from meat to cook, works well on chicken and fish too!
I try and cook dishes from all over the world, my mother is half Italian so pasta dishes are what I was brought up on, but I love Thai and other Asian cuisines with a fiery, clean fresh taste. Thai curries are definitely a favourite at the weekend but Sunday’s you can’t beat a good roast dinner with all the trimmings.

What are your top five pieces of kitchenware that you wouldn’t do without?
My victorinox knives, from paring knives to palette knife and all in between, a great quality knife in the kitchen, I use mine all the time, sharp strong and easy to sharpen so you can always cut with precision.
As mentioned earlier, I could not do without my Bamix hand-held food processor.
Fissler pans and pressure cooker, the pans are great, solid and clean, nice and easy. The pressure cooker is also so easy to use and safe. Many people fear pressure cookers from days gone by, but Fissler has so many safety features and a clear pressure guide so you know you’re ready to set the timer… it’s a great way to save time in the kitchen.
Le Creuset casserole pan, always have one and always will. My family has always used this style of pan for stews, hot pots, and even the odd French dish like Boulangeres or Dauphinoise.
Cakes, it’s got to be my KitchenAid… from blending cake mixture to whisking perfect peaks in meringue and making pasta. You name it, what can’t this machine do for you when making fabulous goodies for the table!

How long have you been in the houseware industry?
I’ve been the industry for almost 5 years and all of that has been with Burton McCall looking after the South West, Midlands and Wales. Most of my previous working life was in horticulture, running a market garden in Buckinghamshire and Christmas tree display work when things went quiet on the growing front. I would work designing trees and helping companies with displays like Fortnum and Mason, Burberry and St Pancras train station, and many other locations around the UK.

What qualities are most important for a good housewares sales person?
I would say understanding your customer’s business needs and what your company has to offer them! Most important thing is you talk and listen to what your customer is telling you about current business successes and issues. Many of my customers are on the high street which as we all know is hard times on every level; footfall, customer spend, online pressures, to name just a few but I would say that my customers and service they offer is second to none.
I do try and go the extra mile by offering help at food festivals and demo evenings which I do many of each year to help support my customers, this also helps build a great relationship between myself, owners and buyers. I think communication is the key for updating customer on trends, new products and promotions, this all helps to keeps my customer in the loop so they can offer to the end user.

What is the best piece of work-related advice you have ever had?
Something my manager Mohamed mentioned to me at my interview and will probably stay with me throughout my working life is ‘People buy from People’… this is so true so be confident, be respectful, understanding and most importantly smile and be happy!

What do you most admire about the Cookshop and housewares retailers?
I feel that my customers have a lot of experience that I can benefit from as a sales person, the knowledge from these owners and buyers is so helpful in understanding trends, products and offering advice and I see this every day on my travels. My customers always offer a warm welcome, and some have also become good friends, it’s a warm industry to work in and our high streets need these retailers to be successful.

What do you most like about the housewares industry?
I think the trade shows are the best for me, seeing other brands, distributors and buyers from large retailers to independents, walking and talking business, catching up over coffee… shows that it’s a great industry to be in.

How would you describe trade at the moment?
Tough! I think with the run up for Christmas in housewares, normal sales in store seem to be getting later each year, Black Friday deals always seem to hold back customer buying, then companies doing early sales before and after Black Friday, seems a big drive on sales all the time to catch the customer. Is this a bad or good thing? I don’t know but to me it’s the race to the bottom all the time, on the streets and online, margins and profit seem to get hit hard and without those two being stable it leads to less profit, less investment and even closures, so again I would say tough!