Martha Meade Kaemmer, co-founder of Cooks of Crocus Hill, was known for her wisdom, generous spirit and curiosity about food.
For most of her adult life, even after she retired from the St. Paul-based kitchenware store, Kaemmer contributed to many local organizations and institutions, including the Minnesota Historical Society, the Minnesota Opera and her alma mater, Carleton College in Northfield, Minn.
Kaemmer, of St. Paul, died March 28 in Florida. She was 73.
“She had a really good sense about that special elegance we all love at a special dinner,” said longtime friend Philip Brunelle, artistic director and founder of VocalEssence. “She was very much admired and beloved in the food world in the Twin Cities. They admired her sense of style, her sense of quality, and just how open and friendly she was. When you talked to Martha, she was there for you.”
Kaemmer and her sister Mary Hulings Rice opened up the gourmet kitchenware shop and cooking school in 1973 (then known as Thrice), which since has been a fixture on St. Paul’s Grand Avenue.
She wanted to bring high-quality kitchen utensils to people who enjoyed cooking in the Twin Cities. At that time, there was a culinary awakening, with Julia Child and Jacques Pepin inspiring people to spend more time creating in the kitchen, said Karl Benson, a friend and co-owner of Cooks of Crocus Hill.
Cooks was born in a 1,500-square-foot storefront at the intersection of Grand Avenue and Lexington Parkway with about four employees and nearly 250 different items for sale, according to its website. Kaemmer’s sister left, but Kaemmer continued to run the business for more than 35 years, and it grew into a popular hangout for cooking enthusiasts.
“She was always 20 years ahead of her time,” Benson said. “She had really great insight.”
Kaemmer acquired her cooking and entertaining mastery from her parents as they hosted guests at their summer home on Sand Island on the south shore of Lake Superior.
She regularly attended cooking classes at schools in Europe, including Le Cordon Bleu, Simone Beck and Paris en Cuisine. She was taught by two- and three-star European restaurant chefs in their kitchens, as well as by the guest and staff teachers at Thrice. Kaemmer was a certified member of the International Association of Cooking Professionals.
Her advice to cooks? Learn the basics and then have fun. Once you acquire a basic skill level, you can learn to use recipes as guidelines rather than as something carved in stone. A 1987 story in the Star Tribune’s Taste section published a favorite recipe of Kaemmer’s: Cornish hens with vinegar and onion sauce — quick, light and elegant for entertaining.
Kaemmer followed in her parents’ philanthropic footsteps.
Bill Hulings was the former president of Andersen Window Corp. His wife, Betty, was the granddaughter of the company’s founder, Hans Jacob Andersen. In 1993, the Hulings received the William Carleton Medal in recognition of their generosity to Carleton College. Hulings Hall, the biological sciences building there, was named for them.
Like her father, Martha Kaemmer was also a trustee, serving as a leader in the college’s fundraising efforts. “Her mother had a motto, which Martha inherited: ‘To whom much is given, much is expected,’ ” Brunelle said. “Martha believed and lived that.”
Kaemmer is survived by Art Kaemmer, her husband of 50 years; sister Mary Hulings Rice of Bayfield, Wis.; her children, Fred and Julia, and four grandchildren. A celebration of her life will be held at a date to be announced.