Where To Shop: JB Prince
It seems like you can buy cookware almost anywhere -- in grocery stores, at Barney's, from bloggers, and of course, at Amazon. It's almost as bad as the ubiquity of mattresses: everyone's an expert.
Except, of course, they're not. Selling good cookware actually takes some knowledge and skill. Buying it does, too. Otherwise you can pay a lot of money for stuff that isn't really worth it or you won't use.
So where do the pros who buy and use cookware on a daily basis shop? For things like knives, pastry tools, pots and pans, whisks and molds and crème brulée dishes? Or maybe you want to try your hand at sous vide or ice carving. Or you need a new instant thermometer or pizza wheel, or you want a sugar shaker or pastry brush.
Welcome to JB Prince, the self-proclaimed source for "the world's finest chefs' tools & equipment." They're in Manhattan, at 36 East 31st Street, on the 11th floor of a nondescript mid-block office building. Open Monday through Friday, from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm, they sell retail from their store. But they also have their entire line of products available to buy by telephone or online.
I recently visited JB Prince to buy new sheet pans. The ones I had were ancient and used so often I could no longer get them clean. I ended up buying three: two half-sheet pans (13" x 18") for $7.90 each and one quarter-sheet pan (13" x 9.5") for $7.90. Both are made of 18 gauge aluminum and are substantial enough to last for many years of use.
JB Prince's Pro Wall of Fame
When you walk off the elevator at the 11th floor of 36 East 31st Street, the first thing you see is a wall covered with business cards, all from the professionals -- mostly chefs -- who are happy customers. Entering the well-lit store you see on the left a glass-walled room filled by a very large table where customer service reps take phone calls and fill orders from culinary professionals from around the world. And then there's the main shop -- it's not huge but big enough for a center case of knives and rows of steel shelving filled with some of JB Prince's most popular items. Prices are clearly marked and there are several very friendly people available to help and answer questions.
Some of the signage and terminology will remind you that this store caters primarily to professionals. For example, terms like garde manger and table service aren't often used at Sur la Table or Williams-Sonoma, nor will they have special equipment used in what JB Prince calls "creative service for contemporary cuisine" as made in restaurants like Alinea. Plus there are some JB Prince items sold only in professional-scale quantities, like 1,000 packs of disposable mini spoons and forks.
If there is something very particular that you found on their website but want to pick up in person, I'd suggest you call first before showing up to make sure the item is on hand, although it probably is.
Despite its professional orientation, JB Prince is absolutely consumer-friendly -- everyone is welcoming and helpful, they take credit cards, and they'll send you off with big, sturdy paper shopping bags to bring home your new gear.
Stores like JB Prince are not the sole solution for we home cooks who seek both utility and décor from what's in our kitchens, so don't give up on our local shops like Whisk and A Cook's Companion. But for some things -- like my new restaurant quality sheet pans -- they are an "only in New York" treasure.
JB Prince 36 East 31st Street (between Park and Madison Avenues)
New York, NY 10016
Open Monday through Friday, 9:00 am to 5:00 pm