Wednesday, March 27, 2013

How it all began in 1983......

Reminisces from Barbara Caffery........original co-founder of The Cookbook Store
      I have a confession to make. I am a recipe girl. If truth be told, there is very little creativity in my kitchen, unless you call an extra tablespoon of Worcestershire in the pot roast creative. Perhaps this is a product of childhood where all good things came from recipes on the back of boxes: Lipton soup meatloaf and Duncan Hines cakes. Perhaps it was natural that I should want to surround myself with thousand of recipes, millions of recipes and those who knew how to make them.

     The making of The Cookbook Store was completely haphazard. I have a strange habit of hitting on projects that I cannot drop. An idea will strike me that seems so natural and exciting that it just has to happen. I sense that I have been let in on a preordained secret, a calling that is mine to fulfil.  This happened in 1983 when I headed towards my favourite store, Books for Cooks, and found locked doors and a sign with a receiver’s phone number that I scribbled on a stray piece of paper. During my day I had occasion to ask a lawyer what a receiver was. “Just call the number and ask them what the deal is” was the reply and so I did. It seems that I was the only one who called as they gave me the lease and the few remaining books and suddenly, with the blessing and support of my husband, an original foodie, I was a book store owner. As with many of my impossible projects in life, I was faced with the now what?

     The now what turned into a whirlwind of cracking open the yellow pages and calling each publisher from A-Z, asking for help from family and friends and putting an ad in the Toronto Star for a store manger. And there in the glow of the empty shelved store I interviewed a girl, yes she was only a girl, who convinced me of her capabilities. I had choices: middle aged women with book store experience, young chefs with business backgrounds, experienced editors. But this girl, this blond Alison, was the one for me.  And from this fortuitous choice came the wise, white-thumbed Jennifer, the tattooed OCAD girls, the cooking school wonders and the serious law students, food lovers all. And over those many years we saw each other through real life: births, deaths, marriages and their endings, celebrations. This store was as warm as its raspberry wallpaper. It welcomed you.

     This inviting, energetic place became a haven for chefs, home cooks, restaurateurs, babies in strollers and stumbling toddlers. There was always laughter inside when you opened the door, even on the coldest days. There was always someone who knew the best beef Wellington recipe. As time went along there were glory days: the gracious Julia Child not once but twice, Martha Stewart with her footrest pillow, Joshua Wesson of Red Wine with Fish fame ruminating over the Zen aspects of curling.

     This store has staying power. You cannot count the number of hairdressers, coffee shops and sandwich joints that have come and gone in the neighbourhood. And yet this store lives on in these uneasy times of bookstores turned gift shops, of online recipes, of paperless books, of cooking shows and takeout. But here in the shelves of a beautiful idea you can browse the many recipes, get advice from the experts, chat about the new restaurants in the city, share a great meal that you are proud of. And if you fear that this may be a dying entity, take time to listen to the whispers of those young people who believe in well made local food, farmer’s markets and truck food made fresh. This is the future that holds our hopes and The Cookbook Store is a very real part of it.

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