Omnivore: Books on Food


As they say: Don’t judge a dog walker by its cover … or something like that.

Celia Sack, whose identity for the past 10 years has been as co-owner of the Noe Valley Pet Co., is pretty much the last person you’d think would make the leap from selling Nyla bones to antiquated cookbooks. On November 8th, she's opening Omnivore: Books on Food, located just around the corner from the Pet Co. on Cesar Chavez in a former butcher shop. (When she told me this I had a butcher shop déjà vu—like everything these days is being opened in a former butcher shop—call me crazy.) You also might not assume that Sack has a library of 5,000 books stored in the Castro District home that she shares with her partner Paula Harris (the other owner of the Pet Co.). Formerly a rare book specialist at Pacific Book Auction Galleries, Sack will be carrying hundreds of books—both brand, spanking new and very, very old—on everything from raising pigs to cooking pork.

This is such an obvious fit for SF.
There so many great cookbook stores around the country but none here. I love to cook and my collecting interest has always been food books, particularly ‘Victorian era professional’—they’re not cookbooks, they’re more about how to set up a pastry shop and display your popular penny cakes in a display. For some reason that’s fascinating to me.

What are some of your favorite modern cookbooks?
I love the Zuni cookbook and Alice Waters’ Simple Food. There’s a great Amish book, but I can’t think of the name. My dog ripped the spine off of it when she was a puppy. But it’s where I get my apple pie recipes.

How many books are you squeezing into the 500-square-foot space?
Hundreds and hundreds. Bascially, my idea is to get people in here buying the new books and make a connection to the past. I’d love to create collectors out of people. People are afraid of touching antiques, going to auctions. It’s sort of inaccessible—you get dirty looks. I’m going to have open stacks. People can come in and touch them. I really want to make it accessible and exciting.

What’s the oldest book in your personal collection?
It’s from 1759 and it’s about how to make ice cream and ice cheeses. I found it at the auction house I used to work at.

You mentioned Omnivore will sell farming books?
I think the agricultural element of the store is really interesting. Joel Salatin—he has a bunch of books on farming and sustainable farming. That sort of thing is really hard to find. Also, there was a publisher Orange Judd out of New York—they were publishing agricultural books to help farmers from 1870’s to the 1930’s. I have a lot of first editions, like Swine Husbandry.

Anything we won’t find?
Lowfat cookbooks. Some of the Food Network stars like Rachael Rachel. Quick and easy meals? No. That was a really easy decision.

Chefy books?
I’ve got some great first editions of Ferran Adrià. And I’ve got some first editions of Marco Pierre White’s White Heat—although I don’t know why people revere such an asshole.

How about obscure?
I was cracking up over Prehistoric Cooking. The woman who modeled the cover looks like something out of the Renaissance Fair.

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