A Day Full of Sunsets

I thoroughly enjoy being a professional kitchen designer!  It allows me to use my artistic skills to create beautiful designs and my analytical skills to make sure everything installs properly and functions flawlessly for my clients. The smile of a happy client and the ongoing referral to their friends and family is something that I find very rewarding.

One of the keys to being able to do the job effectively is to thoroughly understand the design of the appliances on the market. Such a solid understanding allows me to make sure I can design around them such that they function as intended and fit seamlessly into the kitchen design. As a way to stay current on appliance design, I often participate in programs sponsored by the various appliance manufacturers. As you might imagine, some of these can be quite dry but occasionally an opportunity comes along that I look forward to with great anticipation. Such was the case  when my day job afforded me the opportunity to take a tour of the operations at the Sunset Publishing headquarters with the team from General Electric. There would be an opportunity to sample from the Sunset wine cellar, cook in the Sunset test kitchen, stroll through the Sunset test gardens and learn from the GE and Sunset teams. I wasn’t about to say ‘no’ to that!

For those of you that live (or have lived out west), you will know that Sunset magazine is a wonderful collection of all things great in the western states related to travel, home, garden, food and drink. It is a magazine that is right up my alley. It brings me wonderful articles about so many of things that I am interested in and about which I write in this blog and on my other blog – CatTail Creative. [Back when I lived in the Midwest, I thought the magazine was geared towards senior citizens. Boy, was I wrong!]

First Sunset Magazine Cover

First Sunset Magazine Cover

I arrived at Sunset Publishing’s headquarters in Menlo Park, California a few minutes early so I used the time to talk to Amy Olmsted (associate publisher) about the roots of Sunset magazine. As it turns out, it was founded in 1898 as what we would now call the ‘in-flight magazine’ for the Southern Pacific Railroad’s train, the Sunset Limited, which ran from New Orleans to San Francisco. The Sunset magazine was available on board and covered topics that would generate interest in all the wonderful things to do and see once the traveler got to the western states. In the 1920’s, the magazine was purchased by Lawrence Lane, former executive with ‘Better Homes and Gardens’, who reformatted the publication into something more in line with the format we know and love today. Since 1990, Sunset has been part of the Time Warner family and is still going strong.

Once the GE program began, we took a tour of the grounds. The gardens are laid out by western region with the southernmost part of the garden housing the plants found in the southwestern states. As you walk north, the plants evolve to those found in the Pacific northwest. It makes for a very nice way to ‘stroll up the coast’ and allows the Sunset photographers to occasionally use the grounds for a regional photo shoot without having to travel outside of the Bay area for the appropriate flora. Very clever!

In the Sunset Test Garden

In the Sunset Test Garden

Also out on the grounds is the infamous Sunset test garden where they try out the plants that they feature in the magazine as well as the occasional egg-laying chicken or honey bee colony.

The headquarters office itself was architected by Cliff May. Widely known as the father of the California ranch-style houses, it is no surprise that he designed a ranch-style office building complete with courtyards and beams. It is magnificently done right down to the original drinking fountains that still function throughout the building. Quite impressively, virtually every office space has both a window and access to the outdoors. Compared to the cube farms found in so many of today’s office buildings, if you have to go to an office to work every day, this is a great office space from which to work.

It may come as no surprise that I found the test kitchen fascinating.

In the Sunset Test Kitchen

In the Sunset Test Kitchen

The food editor explained to us that all the recipes presented in Sunset go through testing in the test kitchen by serious home cooks, not professionals. The test kitchen has stations that allow all the recipes to be tested on both gas and electric equipment to make sure the recipes work regardless of what type of equipment we all have to work with at home. In order to accomplish this, the test kitchen is laid out with four mini-kitchens in the space with each mini-kitchen having all the necessary appliances needed to make any meal. From this description, you might expect the test kitchen to be a restaurant-grade sea of stainless steel but it isn’t. It is designed to be a home-like space that puts the home cooks at ease. Complete with warm wood cabinetry and clean lines, it is both functional and beautiful. I don’t know who the actual kitchen designer was who developed the space plan but kudos to whomever it was. The job was well done!

While in the test kitchen, I got the opportunity to put the goat cheese crumbles on the quail and brussels sprouts dish that the GE chefs demonstrated for us on the GE appliances found throughout the Sunset test kitchen.  After enjoying that dish, we headed in small groups to the underground wine cellar for a chance to try some of this year’s Sunset Wine Competition winners with Wine Editor, Sara Schneider. [Imagine having a job where you have your own wine cellar at the office and wineries send you all sorts of bottles to sample. Not bad.] A glass of Benzinger’s 2010 Tribute was a perfect cap to a perfect program…as was the bottle of Au Bon Climat pinot noir that we each got to take home.

Thanks so much to GE, Sunset, Amy, Sara and the whole team who hosted us for a delightful visit. If you find yourself in the Menlo Park, California area, the Sunset gardens are open to the public for a self-guided walking tour. You won’t get the opportunity to cook in the test kitchen or drink in the wine cellar but the architecture of the headquarters and the stroll in the garden is worth the stop. You might want to bring your resume along as well. Who wouldn’t want to work in this delightful environment…and then you could cook in the test kitchen and drink in the wine cellar every work day. Sweet! 😉


About CatTail Studio Arts

I am Theresa - the 'T' in CatTail Studio Arts. My husband, Chuck, is the guy behind the 'C'. Our tales cover our many interests including good food, adventurous travel, cooking, gardening, hiking, cycling, crafting ceramics, beekeeping and occasionally even cat tales!
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