By Meredith Brody
This may seem like a quixotic time to open an independent book store, but we can thank our lucky stars that Celia Sack didn't let a little thing like the economy get in the way of her dream.
Which is also ours: a cookbook store that honors the past along with the present. At Omnivore Books on Food ( 3885a Cesar Chavez Street), Sack, a passionate book collector, cleverly interweaves not just classic cookbooks that remain in print with the newest, glossiest, irresistibly illustrated hot-off-the-presses tomes, but also stocks used, rare, collectible, even precious antiquarian volumes.
And she's also mastered the art of display. When you walk in, your first thought may be "Why doesn't my house look like this?" The airy, bright, high-ceilinged room, on a leafy block of uppermost Cesar Chavez, boasts hardwood floors, golden-painted walls, and glossy white bookshelves laden with a brilliantly curated assemblage of books and culinary oddments such as candy molds and antique egg beaters. Vintage books, many with particularly seductive covers that demand to be seen, are often given pride of place, right at eye level. The space was once a butcher shop - destiny! - and still boasts a sculptural rack for hanging sides of beef, as well as a weighty metal door to the erstwhile refrigerated back room.
Wit abounds. A spinning rack offers food-themed postcards. A shelf of miniature liquor bottles turns out to have impeccable provenance (the estate of Hal Wallis, producer of some 350 movies, beginning with Little Caesar in 1931 and ending with Rooster Cogburn in 1976, pausing along the way at, oh, Casablanca springs to mind. But The Man Who Came To Dinner is one of his better titles, for our purposes). Shelves are laden with such arcane but amusing titles as Swine Husbandry, its 19th-century spine heavily gilded with swirling Art Nouveau garlands, tucked inbetween Sheep Farming in America (1912) and a fragile copy of Milch Cows.
The collector hot for inscribed copies of M.F.K. Fisher or A.J. Liebling mint in jacket will also be in luck. Hunters of vintage San Francisco guidebooks will find such treasures as Bohemian San Francisco: Its Restaurants and Their Most Famous Recipes (1914), and Eating Around San Francisco, by Ruth Thompson and Louis Hanges (1937).
And Sack has also planned a full program of in-store events, including a signing and discussion this Thursday, December 4, from 5 to 6 p.m., by Noe Valleyite Niloufer Ichaporia King of her book My Bombay Kitchen, the first book published in the United States on Parsi food written by a Parsi, and a conversation about the organic food movement scheduled on Saturday, December 6, from 2 to 3:30 p.m., with the authors of Organic Marin.
If you're looking for beautifully-preserved copies of Italian Cooking, one in a series by British author Robin Howe, or The Professional Cook, by chef Camille Klein, or A Sense of Humus, by Bertha Damon ("author of Grandma Called It Carnal"), you're out of luck. A crazed bibliomaniac couldn't resist adding these volumes to her library. (Unless, of course, Sack can find you other copies. Which we bet she can.)
San Francisco finally has the cookbook store its own long bookish and famously epicurean history deserves.