This summer I received an email from a company introducing itself as an e-commerce start up that wanted to return us to the way we used to shop: personally. Founded by John Caplan (who helped to start About.com, then worked as CEO of Ford Models), and a few other innovators, it sought people with a particular passion and voice to recommend products that they personally loved. I sensed immediately that it was a fantastic idea and embraced it.
I receive thousands of emails each month, many from strangers asking what kind of knives they should buy or where can they get this or that product I've mentioned in a post. Now there is a way for me to connect with those people on a broader scale and to recommend all kinds of products that I personally love.
Here's why I think Open Sky is such a great idea. Earlier this month, my son James was home with the flu (all's well now, thank goodness!). I scoured netflix for thrillers or sci-fi flicks that both a 10-year-old and his father would love. There was no search function for this. But I went to my local video store, VidStar, explained the situation to a guy named Joe behind the counter, who took me to his personal shelf and handed me a dozen movies that fit my requirements. I chose three, they were awesome and I went back for three more a few days later.
This is an increasingly infrequent experience in our WalMart-Amazon world, one that Open Sky hopes to make less so by asking individuals to create small "shops" comprising products they themselves love and use. There are shops for gardeners, for fishermen, for bird watchers. It's an expression of the Long Tail theory.
Just last week, a reader of my books and blog wrote to me saying she had had enough worrying over E coli and wanted to start grinding her own meat. She doesn't have a standing mixer so I sent her to the grinder I recommend on Open Sky.
This is my shop for kitchen tools—and everything in it is something I either own and use or covet myself. Want to make a proper quiche? I've got the ring mold you need. What's coolest about Open Sky, though, is that I tell my colleagues at Open Sky that I want to offer something unusual, something most people don't know about, and they find a way for me to offer it through Open Sky. For instance, I found a great magnetic knife holder to hang my knives on (they're made from gorgeous woods so are not only beautiful, they also won't ding my knives) made by a small company you've probably never heard of. Now you have. The company is Bench Crafted and the knife holder is called Mag-Blok, and if you want a space-efficient way to store your knives, I highly recommend it. It's also a really cool, affordable gift (it's not like you see these things all over the place).
Another example. Every time I returned to the Culinary Institute of America, I brought home with me 4 or 5 of the side towels they sell and which all the students use. They're really heavy duty sturdy towels, not for wiping your board! or dabbing your brow! as Chef Pardus told our class, "They're FOR GRABBING HOT THINGS!" I hate pot holders and oven mitts; I find them ugly and clunky and inconvenient. I love these side towels. They have many uses and I always have a stack folded and ready nearby. I used to have to wait till I went back to Hyde Park to buy more. Now I can order them from my own store! I love it.
That's the first best part of Open Sky. The second best part is that they've found a way to match or better Amazon's prices. Yep. I don't know how they do it but they do.
I'm not the only one telling people what my favorite stuff is, so there's all kinds of variety available. Shannon and Alison, who write the cooking with friends club blog, have their own "shop." Michael Laiskonis, the outstanding pastry chef of Le Bernardin and excellent blogger, has begun building his own product list.
This is a new idea, Open Sky, a new concept, as far as I can tell, a new endeavor. It's only months old and they're still developing the company. There are drawbacks. Not all the products I want to be available are available. But the folks at Open Sky are working hard to change that. Please check out the site and tell me what you think. Pros and Cons. What could be better, what did you like? If you buy those side towels, or anything else, I'd love to know if the process was easy?
If you have any questions, please ask me!
Update: A comment was made that is important and should be addressed here. The commenter writes: "As a cynic, I'm wondering if companies will be paying people deemed 'celebrity' to push their products. How are we to know if Eric Ripert really uses that Kitchen Aid mixer or if he's being paid to promote it?"
It's part of the Open Sky Agreement that "shopkeepers," as we're called, will NOT be paid by any of the companies whose products we recommend and we do not accept free products from anyone. This entire venture is about integrity and transparency, without which it would die a quick death.