This is going to be a story about a defining moment in our house. It involves a dinner, a scam, “raising the roof”, blood, and above all an earnest performance on the part of all parties involved.
This story is about the SaladMaster.
Last October Parker and I voluntarily participated in an event that most people would go out of their way to avoid: an in-home cooking demonstration. It wasn’t until later that we learned it was actually meant to peddle outrageously expensive cookware.
Somewhere out there I can hear one of you rolling your eyes and thinking “Duh.”
Granted, we didn’t know when we put our name in the raffle that it was a scam. Everything about the Cooking 4 Life booth was right up my alley. The company had tasty food samples, promoted healthy cooking, had a location you could take classes at, and was giving away a free in-home cooking demo to a lucky raffle winner. The thought of someone coming to our newish home to cook us dinner sounded ridiculous (in a good way) and I wanted in. It would be like watching a cooking show, but live! And I love me some cooking shows. I couldn’t help but kept think “Would they be charming like Ina? Loud like Paula? Annoying like Rachael?”
So imagine my delight when I get the call that we won. (Note: I now realize that everyone “wins”). We set a day and a time and that was that. All the food and cookware would be provided, I would just need to supply counter space and plates, etc. Easy! Done! Upon hanging up the phone I looked at the reviews on Yelp in order to get an idea of what to expect and the words “SCAM” and “OVERPRICED COOKWARE” and “WELLNESS REVOLUTION” were jumping off the page. Eyes wide, I grab Parker and we start reading.
Earlier I said that this was the story of a defining moment in our house, and that moment started here. As Parker and I finished reading the reviews we decided, giddily, that we still wanted the demonstration to happen. This decision reaffirmed that Parker and I are absolutely on the same page in terms of what kind of home we want to create together. We want a home that is filled with people and and all kinds of memories, and that included inviting a stranger to cook us bland food in expensive cookware that he or she was going to try to sell us (at least that’s what the reviews said). We had just finished sitting through a timeshare presentation and had come away with two free hotel stays and we were riding high off overcoming the scammer. Bring it on! we thought.
(Side note/sad lesson: If you are going to sit through a time share for trips, make sure you actually redeem them in time).
To say that the demonstration exceeded our expectations is an understatement and I’m still disappointed to this day that I didn’t take any photos.
Our “chef”, let’s call her Amy, is one of the most earnest people I’ve ever met. About 25, she was obviously new to the company and seemed pretty out of her element. NOT Ina, I told myself. I immediately took pity on her and Parker and I both decided that we were going to be very attentive participants. In retrospect, this was possibly the worst thing we could have done, especially after the SaladMaster Incident.
Amy lugged in a massive suitcase filled with the cookware and food and she quickly set up her station, which included a flip chart binder filled with information about how the cookware was going to be part of our WELLNESS REVOLUTION. Looking back, I think the flip chart represented the worst part of the presentation. Because Amy was still new and hadn’t gotten the spiel down she would often lose her place in the script and just resort to reading directly off of the charts (or, worse, would trail off and remain silent for about five seconds too long). Amy’s presentation was also riddled with rhetorical questions like “Can you put a price on a human life?” which compelled us to say “No!”, lest we be faced with more long silences.
The whole idea behind the in-home cooking demo was to showcase how great the cookware is and how no additional oils or fat are needed to cook anything. Yet the real star of the show was the SaladMaster. Not only could the SaladMaster cut my vegetables into any shape I wanted (thanks, various attachments!) it would also decrease my time in the kitchen, and “who doesn’t want less time in the kitchen?!”
It’s clear that just as Amy kept forgetting her spot in the script she also forgot how to attach some pieces to the SaladMaster. Watching her struggle with incredibly sharp blades was like watching an impending train wreck: you want to look away but you can’t, knowing the inevitable will happen and it will be awful. But alas, she got the cone on and started to furiously shred some cabbage, a lot of which landed on the floor or the counter, not the bowl. And granted, while I too would just pick up the cabbage off the counter and put it into the bowl, it’s disconcerting to see someone that’s cooking for you do it.
And then suddenly my worst fear was confirmed. While Amy was furiously spinning the handle to get through some particularly thick and difficult carrots that she’s shoving into the rotating blade she cuts her finger. But man, she didn’t even miss a beat. “Oops! We don’t want any chef in the chef salad! Haha!”
No. Just…no way. At this point Parker and I look at each other thinking, “She’s done. There’s no way this is going to be good.” My “Here, let me get you a bandaid…” was emphatically answered with “No, no! I’m fine! See? I’ll just use this paper towel.” While the cut was small, it wasn’t small enough to not see some blood slowly seeping through layers of paper towel. After picking out potentially tainted cabbage, she kept shredding like nothing happened and decidedly ignored the bandaid I placed among the pieces on the counter.
After the SaladMaster incident Parker and I silently decide through glances and telepathy to take mercy on Amy and we became the most encouraging and supportive participants ever. It was either that or watch her slowly self-destruct and dammit, I had a dinner I still needed to eat. The rest of the demo went by pretty fast, but there were some stand out moments that should be covered before the scam came into full effect. Some highlights:
Amy trying to separate frozen chicken thighs by banging them on our counter and then finally following my suggestion of running the pieces under water to break them apart. It was here that she asked us to “raise the roof” in celebration of cooking a healthy meal, which we did enthusiastically. Because of the pity.
Her telling us horror stories of teflon, like the time a couple’s pet bird suffered from the fumes from teflon coated cookware in the form of it’s beak shifting on its body. (I kid you not). We responded with “Wow, that’s some story” and “I’ll have to look into that!” because there was nothing else to say at this point and we were already 1.5 hours in.
Amy telling us that this is a part time job she recently started, and that she’s an engineer for a big company in San Diego. If I had water in my mouth that would have been the moment I would have comically spit it all over the floor in shock. Parker looked appalled.
Amy demonstrating that different cookware imparts flavor on our food. This was, by far, the most effective part of the presentation, though not horribly scientific. My stainless steal pot versus a teflon pot versus the fancy cookware. Heat up some water and add some baking soda and voila! Instant taste test. Whereas my stainless steal held up okay, the water out of the teflon tasted absolutely terrible. (Her fancy cookware was perfect, of course). Our girl Amy was well trained on this part of the presentation and we were oddly proud of her.
When the food was (finally!) ready 2 hours after Amy’s arrival, we sat down to a pretty sizable feast. Salad, veggies, chicken, and chocolate cake (made, ahem, from a premade mix). All made from the fancy cookware, all terribly horribly bland. The justification for the lack of seasoning was something along the lines of “We want you to really taste the food and how well the cookware blah blah blah”, which did not stop either of us from pouring salt and pepper onto everything.
What was Amy doing while we ate, you wonder? Instead of taking the time to clean up her items like the reviews on Yelp said the “chef” would do, she decided to sit with us and keep presenting with her flip chart binder (there were a lot of charts). If an unsuspecting “winner” of the cooking demo didn’t recognize that this was all a scam earlier, they would certainly see it now:
$10,000. That’s how much the cookware set cost. Ten. Thousand. Dollars.
I almost laughed out loud but I saw how earnest she is. I gently but firmly tell her I’m not buying that and, undeterred, she showed me more “affordable” sets as low as $4000. Nope. Not buying. Who in their right mind would buy cookware for $3,000? How does she even think we have this kind of money?? Ah, that just brought out the financing services option. When I finally looked her in the eye and told her I was not going to buy anything from her there was definitely a shift in her demeanor. Amy kind of steeled her nerves and said “Well…can you at least play along?”
Just when I thought the level of potential awkwardness couldn’t get any higher Amy ups it by asking me for ten friends that she can call on do to a demonstration. Uhhh…hell no. Absolutely not. For one, I’m not a horrible friend and two, I don’t hate anyone that much. After shooting down the second most ridiculous request I’ve ever been asked by a stranger in my own home, she thanked us for listening to the presentation and proceeded to start cleaning up while we finished eating. The thing is, we were pretty much done. I for one don’t stop eating when someone talks to me (I’m not that polite) so I just looked at Parker wide eyed while glancing back and gesturing to Amy. What do we do? and This is weird now! were met with shrugs.
So we did what anyone in our situation would do. We helped clean up, though at one point I did wish she would dump all the dirty $1000 pans into her giant suitcase and roll out. There was lots of idle chitchat that I can’t remember anymore, but by the time Amy was done cleaning we had clocked in 3.5 hours with her and it was 10pm. Though she was bummed that we didn’t buy anything, she thanked us as she was leaving for being so nice even though she messed up at a couple of parts. After she left we sat on the couch, shell shocked at the evening’s events and wondering if what happened had been real.
I heard from Amy about four or five times after that and I managed to avoid most of the calls (thank goodness for her out of state number!). She kept leaving voicemails reminding me of my free cooking class at the main store and wondering if I have any friends interested in the product. I never called back and I still haven’t brought myself to go to the store.
I still see Cooking 4 Life booths at lots of events and I always find myself telling our story about Amy and the SaladMaster. I wonder if she is still out there, doing cooking demos in the evening and peddling $1,000 pans. I like to think that she got better at the gig and became more confident in her presentation. At the very least, I hope that she stopped injuring herself and making people “raise the roof” in their own home.