By Annette Reeves
Chef Kimberly Ayayla demonstrates her culinary skills on every social media platform (and appliance) imaginable, giving PIRCH customers a taste of home cooking possibilities.
There’s nothing better than the smell of freshly cooked bacon wafting through the room, awakening your gastronomic senses, inviting your stomach to crave an exciting taste, and begging you to find the source of that incredible smell. Or imagine warm baked cookies, pulled straight from the oven, bringing back memories of grandma and the famous secret recipe she served you with a cold glass of milk. Those smells, those tastes, those wonderful memories are all part of the experience that PIRCH, soon with seven stores in Southern California, brings to the table. And at the heart of that cooking experience is a small woman with large glasses, bright red hair, and a cheerful smile who can teach you anything and everything about cooking on the world’s best appliances. Meet Kimberly Ayala, head chef at PIRCH.
Ayala, who recalls that she loved baking ever since she was a small girl, says that she sat in the kitchen with her mom every day, watching her bake and cook and learning all her best kept secrets. Born in Los Angeles, Kimberly has an older brother (who is coincidentally a chef in New York), two sisters, and enjoys amazing memories of growing up with them in the Inland Empire. A close-knit family, they used the dining room table as the heart of their home to bond as a family over their mom’s home-cooked meals. Those memories are exactly what inspired Ayala to become a chef. Following high school, Kimberly chose to focus on baking and pastry at the Art Institute of San Bernardino. Her studies and success in the field landed her jobs at Disneyland, The Ritz-Carlton, and then, through a friend who admired her strong dedication to the cooking field, to the PIRCH store in Dallas.
Kimberly, who clearly embraces all aspects of cooking, says that she had no idea that this new career would lead her to not only love cooking but to also become deeply enamoured with the appliance industry. While in Dallas, she had the benefit of working with more seasoned chefs who taught her the ropes and introduced her to the wide array of appliances available to PIRCH customers.
“The first appliance I was introduced to was the steam oven,” Ayala says. “I was so intrigued by its versatility that I challenged myself to learn everything I could about the steam oven.” Ayala says that this experience sparked her to open her mind to the savory side of cooking and she began creating and honing her cooking skills. “PIRCH gave me the opportunity to learn more about all kinds of foods, not just baking and pastries. I had the greatest opportunity and resources to cook on any type of appliance and create every dish I could dream up.”
Kimberly’s strong family ties pulled her back to California and she was welcomed to the PIRCH Glendale showroom as head chef. Prior to COVID-19, the world of culinary experience at PIRCH was far different, and as she recalls, “A typical day at PIRCH would be cooking food that I would place out in the showroom for clients to taste and spark their interest in a live appliance I was using. Our customers love when there are amazing smells throughout the showroom and it’s a perfect opportunity for them to ask questions about the appliances I cook on every day.”
That’s precisely what Kimberly says she loves about PIRCH: The ability for clients to be curious and tame that curiosity with a live demo or a weekend cooking class or even an in-home demonstration on a post-appliance purchase. “If they see somebody cooking or they smell delicious food, it’s a safe and inviting way for them to ask questions and learn about any appliance before they purchase it,” she says.
PIRCH Chef Kimberly Ayala
One thing Kimberly misses greatly and cannot wait to see return is the weekend cooking classes that PIRCH hosted. “It was so fun to be a part of everyone cooking together—friends, family, siblings making an entire meal and then enjoying it as a group,” says Kimberly. People loved the ability to truly be “hands-on,” to touch, feel, test, and taste as well as work on an appliance they had questions about and were considering for their own home. She explains that her ability to enlighten someone on an appliance they are undecided about is one of the favorite parts of her job. “They may not want or know they need that appliance and it’s my job to help them understand how this will make their life easier when they are cooking for their family,” she adds.
Kimberly says that this allows her to get to know their lifestyles, how they cook, what their daily schedules are, and then provide proper direction on what appliances would be best suited. She explains, “I’m recommending something that they are going to use all the time. I also want to make sure they are informed and that when we are finished, they are confident with their decisions. Sometimes clients are building their forever home or investing a lot of money into a project, and I want them to be most comfortable with that investment.”
Will Dillard, Chief Operating Officer at PIRCH, agrees that the ability for Kimberly to enlighten customers on the tips and tricks of appliances is the key ingredient for PIRCH’s success. “Having full-time chefs at our stores has always brought an added layer of customer service and uniqueness to PIRCH. Our salespeople are the most knowledgeable people in the industry in terms of specifications, features, and design. But our chefs bring a relatable feel to the appliance, a hands-on approach that our clients can relate to, attach their daily lifestyles to, and become comfortable with in their decision to add it to their home.”
The beauty of that chef/sales team approach is what gives the homeowner the entire solution for their project. While the salespeople may describe the best BTU range in the industry, the quickest freezing-point freezer money can buy, or the steam oven that will change your life, PIRCH chefs can talk the “everyday” talk. Dillard explains, “You’re going to get everything you need to make an informed decision from our sales team BUT the one thing you don’t get anywhere is the talent of our chef who cooks on this every single day.”
When COVID-19 hit, the model of live cooking and in-store demos ceased immediately. Overnight, the steam ovens were turned off, the Woodstone Bistro flames were snuffed out, and the stores experienced a quiet and tasteless scenery. But that did not stop the marketing and management team from rolling up their sleeves and using the resources they had available. Kimberly found herself not in front of 20 hungry customers but instead, on screen to 2,000 hungry customers anxious to hear what she had to teach them about every appliance she used.
PIRCH launched a major marketing effort to cook on and virtually demonstrate every appliance available. Barbecues, pizza ovens, steam ovens, ranges, and cooktops became the focus of Kimberly’s everyday life. She dreamed up recipes and showed homebound clients what these appliances could do for them, and it was an immediate hit. Instagram and Facebook users grew, the company’s YouTube portfolio increased immensely, and Kimberly’s love for her job soared.
“In a way, it’s kind of like I’m doing a demo, I’m still cooking and educating, but the best part is that people can go back and look at it over and over. I love being a resource to our customers,” says Kimberly. While she had some serious butterflies in her stomach at first, she says it’s become almost second nature to her once they announce, “Lights, Camera, Action!” She adds, “Now that I do it more often, it gets easier and easier. I’ve become calmer and I love the spontaneity of talking to the camera and sharing my secrets about a particular appliance.”
Asked about the future, Kimberly says she’s taking one day at a time and enjoying watching as the COVID-19 numbers decrease and the stores are allowed to become focused once again on cooking and teaching. The timing is incredible as the new Cedros store is putting the finishing touches on its recent launch and the Mission Viejo store is hammering away at its future opening. The vision Steve Smith, CEO, and the management team have for those stores is creative and out of the box, with more appliances available for live cooking demonstrations and an enhanced focus on barbecue and outdoor equipment. What most excites Kimberly is the barbecues and the live induction cooktops. “Not all barbecues are created equal,” she says. “I enjoy showing people everything I can do on a barbecue and how different grills can give you such different results. We have more and more customers asking about induction cooktops because it’s the latest and greatest right now. We’ve never had one of these live, so this will be such a vital part of educating our customers on induction!”
As PIRCH grows, Kimberly’s passion for her career and her opportunity grows. She enjoys the fact that she is offering her customers what her mother gave her—the joy of cooking, the ability to embrace the best of family and friends through the culinary experience, and the knowledge that having close friends is the secret spice of life.
PIRCH Costa Mesa | SoCo | 3303 Hyland Avenue, Suite D | Costa Mesa | 949.429.0800 | pirch.com