New Book From Omnivore Books Owner

While national chains like Borders are in the throes of final liquidation, San Francisco independent shop Omnivore Books on Food is thriving. The shop has a full calendar of special events, including a sold-out October 10 audience with Spanish master chef Ferran Adrià at Castro Theater and an evening with TV personality Jacques Pepin on November 8 at Delancey Street Theater.

Next month, Omnivore owner Celia Sack (who also co-owns the neighboring Noe Valley Pet Company) gets into the publishing world herself with the October 4 release of The Omnivore's Recipe Keeper: A Treasury for Favorite Meals and Kitchen Resources, featuring hand-written recipes from food luminaries such as David Lebovitz, Frank Bruni, and Cindy Pawlcyn. Here, Sack discusses her first book and the local appetite for food literature.

Who better to create a food book than someone who makes a living selling food books?
Yes, definitely! When [Ten Speed Press] came to me about it about a year and a half ago, they wanted me to make it a memoir of my store, but I had only been open a year. I said, "I can give you a great dog-walking memoir, but I don't have anything to give you for this."

But then you came up with this scrapbook/journal/cookbook hybrid.
This was a really good way to do it because I got all these beautiful images from my home library and organized them by subject. On top of that, I got all these authors to contribute hand-written recipes. The book has pockets to put your loose recipes in, as well as some lined pages so you can hand-write or tape-in recipes.

What sort of books do best in the store: Memoirs or cookbooks?
That's a good question; actually, I think what does best are the local authors. The Mission Street Food book sold a ton and I'm selling so many of the 40 Years of Chez Panisse book. People are really looking for California healthy and it's always a push to get them interested in more ethnic cookbooks, which I'm always trying to do — especially Indian, which is so easy and flavorful. But people are very focused on cookbooks, and they also like the imports from England and Australia.

Are there collectors?
The professional chefs like to have the new stuff that's coming out of Spain and France, but the really big collectors are the ones who get the antiquarian books from me.

Antiquarian book sales have picked up for you. Why?
Getting [chef and former restaurateur] Jeremiah Tower's collection got me a lot of press and I've been here for about three years and the word is getting around that I do this. I've also been working on people to get collecting.

I'll give you a perfect example of a gateway drug: I have somebody who loves Michael Pollan and they have everything of his, and so I'll say, "Well, do you have the first edition of Omnivore's Dilemma? I've got a signed copy here." They'll buy that and get interested in that and then I can work them back to the person who originally started writing about this in the 1940s and here's a first edition of his book on organic farming and we take it from there. I think people are starting to get excited about that and I save books for certain people who I know like certain things.

So it's like proper crack dealing, what you're doing here?
Crack dealing, yes, exactly! The gateway drug is the gateway book that I can turn you on to, and then we move deeper into the harder stuff. [The Feast]

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