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Cookin' in Ashland

Japanese blades, German-engineered hand tools, heirloom-quality cookware and hundreds of specialty foods all are reasons to “shop small” in Ashland.

The Culinarium opened its doors Sept. 4 to a clientele hungry for gourmet goods. Some customers followed owners Constance and David Jesser from their now-shuttered Jacksonville Mercantile. Others found a genre of products absent from Ashland since Allyson’s Kitchen closed five years ago.

“There is something for everybody there,” said Constance Jesser. “The reception has just been outstanding.”

The Jessers took over the former downtown site of Houston’s Custom Framing & Fine Art at 270 E. Main St. Houston’s moved to the Hersey Street Business Park. The well trafficked East Main Street block that also houses Bloomsbury Books is the perfect venue for the Jessers’ “new adventure,” said Constance Jesser.

“I always had to go to Ashland to find certain things,” said Jesser of the days when Allyson’s and Chateaulin were the town’s primary sources for fine foodstuffs, many imported.

The Jessers’ own JM brand made the move from the Mercantile to The Culinarium. Augmenting those private-label oils, vinegars, salts and extracts are cutlery, gadgets, pots, pans and other kitchen accoutrements, priced from $10 to several hundred dollars. The Culinarium’s business concept, said Jesser, is akin to Sur La Table, a Seattle-based retailer with stores in 30 states.

“And that’s on purpose,” she said.

Purposely refraining from selling cooking equipment in Jacksonville, the Jessers stuck solely to edibles in deference to Pot Rack, located on the opposite side of California Street. David Jesser’s position on the Jacksonville City Council also steered the couple’s 11-year-old business away from stepping on fellow merchants’ toes.

“That’s just bad form,” said Constance Jesser.

Good luck has followed the Jessers since April, when they started looking for an Ashland retail space after getting word that their Jacksonville landlords planned to sell the building. City planners made easy work of upgrading The Culinarium’s 1,900-square-foot digs, which involved installing lighting and fabricating custom shelves, said Constance Jesser. And the Ashland business community has been “so welcoming,” she added.

“It’s very complementary of the entire culinary scene we have here,” said Dana Preston, membership development manager for the Ashland Chamber of Commerce.

Although Paddington Station, located several blocks north, dedicates its second floor to table settings, tea sets, linens, bakeware and assorted kitchen equipment, The Culinarium doesn’t duplicate that inventory, said Preston. The Culinarium touts its Mauviel copper cookware, Black Cube nonstick pans, Gefu hand tools and Shun knives. Coolers are stocked with more cheeses than the Mercantile offered, even caviar, said Jesser, a Le Cordon Bleu-trained chef.

“I think The Culinarium carries really unique products,” said Preston.

Customers also can look for The Culinarium to add value to the products they may purchase with in-store demonstrations and cooking classes, said Preston. Those events will emerge with the next phase of The Culinarium, said Jesser, who frequently hosted cooking classes at Jacksonville Mercantile. Future plans, she added, include a commercial-grade demonstration kitchen, where participants “can get their hands dirty,” rather than observe as they did at the Mercantile.

The Culinarium is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. Call 541-708-6262.

— Reach freelance writer Sarah Lemon at thewholedish@gmail.com.