Interview – Barbara-Jo’s Books to Cooks

Whenever I feel the need to escape from life for a few hours and truly unwind, I don’t head to the nearest spa or sit by the beach with a novel. Nope. Instead I head over to what has become my own personal utopia: Barbara-Jo’s Books To Cooks. Located in Vancouver, this store houses everything and anything to do with cookbooks including books for professionals and beginners, rare and out-of-print books, and culinary periodicals from around the world. The store’s owner, Barbara-Jo McIntosh, designed the store to be an epicurean’s delight where food lovers and cooks of all abilities would find inspiration. An award-winning food professional with over 25 years experience in the food and hospitality industry, Barbara-Jo served on the prestigious James Beard Awards cookbook selection committee for six years. In 2003, Vancouver Magazine honoured her with a lifetime achievement award for her many contributions to the local culinary scene.

From the moment I step through the doors of this cookbook lover’s domain, I start to relax. The welcoming vibe of the store allows me to temporarily forget all of my stresses, and languidly browse books while enjoying a cup of complimentary tea. The focal point of the shop is the fully-equipped kitchen, where cooking classes and demonstrations feature recipes from new and notable books. I have yet to sign-up for a cooking class, but am determined to make it happen this year.

Recently I had an opportunity to chat with Barbara-Jo.

Our topic? Cookbooks. Duh.

How has the economic downturn affected your store’s cookbook sales?
To be honest, our sales haven’t really been affected throughout any of the recent economic events. People are still drawn to our store, and know that it is a place where they can come to enjoy conversations about food and cooking. We continue to encourage people to get back into their kitchens!

What are some suggested cookbooks for a person just starting to get to know their kitchen?
Because of the movie Julie and Julia, we have seen a resurgence in popularity for anything written by Julia Child. For a beginner, I would recommend her book The Way to Cook which provides a good culinary foundation from which to start. It’s a great instructional book full of helpful photos to illustrate specific techniques. Beyond that, I really like Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything.

What were your top selling cookbooks for 2009?
The Flavor Bible by Andrew Dornenburg was one of our top sellers last year. This book is not a collection of recipes, more an alphabetical index of flavours and ingredients. Because of this, it tends to appeal more to experienced cooks who are already comfortable in the kitchen and are looking for ways to expand their freestyle approach to cooking. Another popular book was Pastry: Savory and Sweet by Michel Roux which is geared towards the home cook. And I’m proud to say that my own book – Tin Fish Gourmet – disappeared quickly from our shelves!

What was the first cookbook you ever owned?
La Cuisine by Raymond Oliver

Favourite cookbook of all time?
Ask me when I am on my deathbed!

Any predictions for food trends for 2010?
A return to elegant presentation on the plate, recipes sophisticated but simple and delicious.

Favourite place to eat?

Favourite meal to cook?
Pan-fried Quail with Succotash and Spinach

What are some recently released cookbooks that are creating a buzz in the industry?
Christine Manfield has a book called Fire: A World of Flavour and it is magnificent. Also, Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc at Home, and Momofuku by David Chang and Peter Meehan have everyone talking.

If you could book anyone in the world to teach a cooking class at your store, who would it be and why?
Alice Waters – owner of Chez Panisse in Berkley. Alice has been an inspiration to me in regards to her desire to have the world eat well and understand why real food matters.

Any plans to write another cookbook in the near future?
Yes, I have one in the works at the moment which should be published in late spring.

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