Why Own 10,000 Cookbooks?
By Camille Rope & Sophie Gilmour of Delicious Business
I can’t answer that, but I can assure you that I love them all. Collecting cookbooks is a passion that started when I was a young girl and has grown into a lifelong obsession. I love cookbooks beyond words – I love researching them, buying them, reading them, storing them, adding them to my online index, cooking from them, being inspired by them, and placing them in the correct place on the bookshelf – what is not to love?!
Cooking became a part of my life when I was quite young and my mother was unwell, so I prepared all lunches and dinners for our family of six each day. I started making the things that I knew and had seen my mother cook, but could soon be found balancing on a chair trying to reach the top of the bookshelf where she kept a few cookbooks. It was love at first sight – I was instantly struck by how you can learn to create something you’ve never made before and be completely entertained by the words at the same time. I distinctly remember the day I was gifted my very own first cookbook, and I still have it on the shelf.
Throughout my teen years I spent all my spare pocket money on growing my cookbook collection – food photography became more front-and-centre of the genre which meant the books kept getting bigger and better. My time at university in Dunedin coincided with the rise of the celebrity chef and they began publishing new books each year, allowing me to collect whole series from the chefs that I cooked the most! I savoured escaping the cold to the cosy Dunedin bookshops to flick through the growing cookbook displays, always returning home with just one more book. When I finished my degree in Dunedin, I crammed all my cook books in the car and drove my collection back home to Auckland to discover that an entire shop had opened in Mt Eden, dedicated to cookbooks! Heaven.
I never dreamed that I would one day work in one of the best speciality cookbook shops in the world. When I left for my OE, I packed away all my books and headed to London. After a couple of odd jobs, I landed a position at the famous ‘Books for Cooks’ in Portobello Road. The shop became my second home for 7 years – the walls were covered with books arranged by subject on one side of the room and country on the other. We practically had a book on every subject you can imagine, from ‘mashed potatoes’ to ‘spam’ to ‘boiled sweets’ and ‘Polish Dumplings’. I was the chef in the tiny kitchen at the back, and each day we chose a different book from the incredible 10,000 titles in store and cooked a three-course lunch for our enthusiastic customers.
Books for Cooks attracted more cookbook lovers each day – we would exchange stories about our favourite books and the recipes within them, and we got busier each day. I look back fondly on this time, and wonder whether the era of the iPhone and instant-Google-recipe-gratification has robbed us of this pleasure? Thankfully, it hasn’t.
Despite hard copy book sales on the whole declining worldwide, cook book sales are in fact on the rise, and I think I know why. Cook books are time travelling devices, taking you in pictures and in words from one culture or country to another in moments. They make wonderful gifts, look beautiful on display, and encourage us to bring the people that we love together around the table. I prefer to thumb a real-life copy before committing to a cookbook purchase, because for me, buying online robs me of the sensory and visceral act of browsing the cookbook section, unwrapping the paper bag with the book inside, and of reading the foreword to discover what makes the book important to those that created it. Cookbooks are passion projects, and an enormous amount of energy and effort is expended in pursuit of the finished product – I really love discovering the beauty in the detail.
There is a cook book for everything – some are wonderful for using up what is in the fridge, some specialise in making cooking simpler, some are perfect for a full day spent in the kitchen and some are best just for reading and perusing the photographs. These days, finding room on the shelf means there are often piles of books scattered around the house. But somehow, I still know where I can find each one, and what recipe I want to create from them on a given day. I know which one I want to curl up on the sofa with, and which one I trust to teach me something new. Cookbooks are my meditation and there’s nothing more mindful for me than putting down my phone and picking up a wonderful cookbook. I implore you give it a go.