Corey & Mike Milligan with the lovely Mrs. Cookie Milligan. Photo Credit: David Myers
In celebration of Mother’s Day we sat down with Carol Milligan - affectionately known as “Cookie”, who is not only the mother of our fearless founder and knife craftsman, Corey Milligan, but also to his highly accomplished younger brother, Mike Milligan, who has successfully helmed our Marketing and PR for over 15 years, landing us coverage multiple times over in top national publications like Saveur, Food & Wine, and Forbes. He’s also written, directed, and performed several internationally touring, critically acclaimed theatre productions through his company Poor Box Theatre. To round out this group of awe-inspiring siblings is Jennifer Milligan, the oldest of the 3, a multi-talented, world-touring, jazz and blues singer-songwriter who co-leads Lil Red and The Rooster and resides in Bernay, France.
It seems that Ms. Cookie Milligan might be onto something when it comes to raising an audacious brood. When asked about her kids’ younger days she said, “my husband and I were goodie two-shoes, but our kids were much more adventurous and outgoing. We wanted them to be themselves and loved to live vicariously through their activities.” As one who loves the arts Cookie encouraged her kids to take classes in drawing, painting, and acting, and they all loved to go to the Westerville Arts Festival every summer. The experiences left a positive mark - whether on stage or designing cutlery, all three Milligans found their calling in creative realms.
Cookie with a young Corey in costume for a community theatre production.
When speaking about Corey, she shared, “he’s just always been full of ideas and full of energy. Corey and I are the most outgoing ones in the family.” Although it wasn’t clear from the start that he’d end up a knifemaker. “As a kid he was often gone for hours exploring and inspecting the local plants and wildlife around our home; we thought he’d be a biologist!”
He’s now known as a talented cook and craftsman; years of cooking professionally had a great impact on honing Corey’s knife designs for New West, but it wasn’t always that way.
“You know he didn’t eat anything when he was young. He ate my mother’s homemade noodles, mashed potatoes, bread, and plain pasta. When he was 15, I took him to a Chinese cooking class. In the first class, his job was to chop the garlic and the ginger in to tiny, tiny pieces. We did a couple of these classes and then we would cook the dishes at home - smoke alarms would go off, but we had a great time together. So he’s become the gourmand. From eating nothing, to loving to cook."
Gathering together to cook and eat is the peak of quality time for the Milligan family. This provided an intensive testing ground for Corey’s knife designs and translated down the generations to his children. His son, Buck Milligan, went on to win on the nationally televised 2016 Thanksgiving edition of Chopped Junior at 12 years old.
Eventually our story brings us to Wyoming. After spending a college semester in Lander, WY at a NOLS wilderness education program, Corey was hooked and sought ways to get back to the wild west after college, this time to Jackson. “Corey called and said, ‘Mom, I want to take this course, it costs $350 and if I pass I get a job and I get my money back.’ So he did, and he loved it.” Little did we know we have Mad River Rafting Co. to thank for luring the country’s future premier boutique knife manufacturer to Jackson.
As the fledgling New West Knifeworks was getting up and running Cookie was a big supporter from the beginning, “I was their best and first customer. I used to pay full price, because, you know, they were just starting out.” She even went to help sell the knives and get exposure for New West at the holiday market in Bryant Park, near Times’ Square New York City.
“I worked the booth in Bryant park for a couple winters. We always had extra security by our booth since they had never had anyone selling knives there before. We had interesting people come in - we had the bearded homeless lady, and we had to watch her because she liked to pick up the knives. People were just gaga over them - the colors, the designs. It was a great time.”
All the while Mike Milligan was performing on Broadway just a few blocks away at the Pulitzer Prize winning production of August:Osage County. It’s no wonder Cookie was excited to spend a few winters in New York.
Her early support has certainly made an impact on the growth of the company, and now, as New West finds continued success, Corey can return the favor. “Corey’s always been kind enough to donate knives to the fundraiser at the children’s theatre where I work and other non-profits - they’re always a big hit.”
It seems that there’s a lot of reciprocation in the Milligan family. Cookie added “I’ve learned a lot from Corey actually, his positive attitude, and wonderful ways of cooking things.” She noted wryly, “my children aren’t shy about instructing me. But I’m very blessed because they all like each other, and they like us, and we like them.” She certainly sounds like a mom to be celebrated.
How will you celebrate your mom this mother’s day? We have some ideas, and some great knives that we’re pretty sure she’ll love. Cookie recommends “The Petty” - that perfect balance of performance and easy-to-manage size.