Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Staff Reminisces from Jennifer Grange

     The evening of June 30, 1983, was beautiful, not too hot, not too humid, so lovely that after a movie at Yonge and St. Clair, my then boyfriend and I decided to walk all the way back downtown to catch the Queen streetcar to the Beach where we lived. That decision changed my life.

      We had moved to Toronto so that my partner could take an editing job at The Canadian Press.  I had done some “stringing” for the Toronto Star, had baked and cooked in restaurants in London, Ontario, had a degree in political science.  After almost a year and a half in Toronto, I was still without a job. That night as we sauntered down Yonge Street, I spied a little notice in the window of 850 where The Cookbook Store had recently opened. The store was looking for another staff member.  I was elated.  It would be the perfect job for me, who loved to cook, who loved cookbooks, indeed, books in general. The next day, a Friday was Canada Day so I had to way until Saturday to deliver my resume.  I thought my interview with the manager, Alison Fryer, and employee #2, Deborah Wightman who was also from London, went well.  I was sure that by Monday morning the job would be mine. Monday came and went, and so did Tuesday. On Tuesday night, I had a total meltdown, thinking that if I could not get a job at The Cookbook Store, I would never get a job in Toronto. Fortunately the phone rang early Wednesday morning: I was invited for a tryout on Thursday afternoon. In the meantime, I had a dinner to go to.  I got food poisoning but by Thursday afternoon I could keep water down so off I went.

     To this day, the first task anyone hoping to work at the store must perform is the ceremonial tidying of the shelves. I was no different.  The first thing I noticed was not on the shelf was Marcella Hazan’s Classic Italian Cooking, one of the first books I had ever bought for myself.  The first customer I advised was looking for a good Italian book.  I knew just the one and after asking if the store did special orders, took the person’s name and number. I was invited to come back on Saturday.  That day I fixed someone’s glasses with a staple—I was hired.

     I guess I began my time at The Cookbook Store thinking that I would work retail until a real job came along—certainly my future husband thought that. Instead working at The Cookbook Store became my career, my life’s work, in many ways my community. In the three decades I have worked here I co-wrote a book, have seen my words published both in-store and in national publications, have been on radio and television.  

     I have been lucky to meet almost all of my culinary heroes, many of them multiple times.  The first was Elizabeth Baird whose Classic Canadian Cookbook gave validity to the food on which I grew up.  Martha Stewart, Julia Child, Patricia Wells, Richard Sax, Nick Malgieri, Paula Wolfert, Anton Mosimann, Gordon Ramsay, Nigella Lawson, Jamie Oliver, Yotam Ottolenghi, Sami Tamimi , Feran Adria, Magnus Nilsson, and countless others have passed through our doors. 

     The pleasure has not just been about meeting international culinary bright lights. It has been as much about watching 17 year old children enter culinary programmes such as the one at George Brown College and seeing them evolve into mature chefs both in Canada and abroad.

     We have had an extraordinary group of customers: anonymous home cooks, music stars both classical and pop, actors from both stage and screen, academics, they have all come together for the joy of cooking. 

     We have also had an unusual group of coworkers.  If there is any recurring theme it is that lawyers and musicians really love food—and alcohol.  Many have become close friends rather than just coworkers even as they have turned into food editors, lawyers, bakers, the assistant director of international human protection at the United Nations, university professors, a medical student in Dublin.

     Our customers and co-workers have celebrated with us as we built families and been there as those families changed in ways we might never have imagined, as we have lost family and friends—as we are there for them.  The Cookbook Store as a community hub really signifies for me the power of food to unite.

Jennifer Grange
Cookbook Store employee from July 1983 to present

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