Friday, April 19, 2013

Staff Reminisces from Rebecca Slepkov

    I began working at The Cookbook Store in the fall of 1999, as a sophomore at University of Toronto, a few weeks after I first discovered the store while walking around Yorkville with my mother. A store that just sold cookbooks was a revelation. One that had a help wanted sign in the window was a gift from god. I, like many of our customers and staff, read cookbooks almost like novels. I learned to cook partly by reading The Joy of Cooking from cover to cover when I was 9. If I remember correctly it was also the first thing I sold.  

    Among my most memorable store moments: The day a tour bus stopped across the street and 40 Asian tourists filed in; wrapping Geddy Lee's Christmas presents; escorting Curtis Stone to our less-than-pristine shared building washroom; exploring the creepy store basement, complete with an old, massive, octopus of a furnace; annual chip and dip day (ruffle chips and French onion dip); organizing, and then re-organizing the storeroom (and the closets, the cubby holes, the drawers, the cupboards...); the strange satisfaction of successfully removing sticker residue with Goo Gone; and compiling my compendium of The Cookbook Store operations manual.

    I continued to work at the store for several years, straight through a fifth-year victory lap at U of T, and then became the employee who kept coming back: summers, Christmases, the year between finishing my masters and starting a PhD program. If I could work for the store from afar I would. Working at the store has truly been one of the highlights of my life. Placed at the nexus of the food world and the book world, with Alison, Jennifer, and many dedicated (some would say addicted) customers, I really, truly miss it.

    Today I am a PhD student in biological anthropology at the University of Minnesota. My main research interest, perhaps unsurprisingly, is how diet shaped the earliest periods of human evolution after our lineage split off from the other apes. One method I use is stable isotope analysis; you are what you eat, right down to the number of neutrons in the carbon atoms of your bones. People and animals that eat a lot of forest food resources like leaves and fruit have more light carbon molecules (carbon-12) than heavier carbon molecules (carbon-13) in their tissues than those that eat a lot of tropical grasses. My dissertation research involves quantifying the extent of such chemical differences between the diets of chimpanzees and baboons and their tissues. I will be conducting fieldwork at Gombe National Park in Tanzania, where Jane Goodall first began studying chimpanzees in 1960. 

Sometimes, I think I'd rather just work at the store for the summer.
Rebecca Slepkov
Cookbook Store employee 1999
Currently PhD student at the University of Minnesota

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