by Kylie Meyermann

Alison Fryer greets Fergus Henderson at The Cookbook Store, Toronto, March 2, 2011

For nearly three decades The Cookbook Store has been a Toronto foodie hot spot. Alison Fryer opened The Cookbook Store in April of 1983 and has since witnessed everything in ‘gastroporn’ (a word Fryer  uses fondly to describe the production of high-end cookbooks), from the rise of the celebrity chef to coffee table cookbooks. Good Food Revolution  sat down with Fryer for this Good Food Fighter profile.

GFR: What does the idea of Good Food mean to you?

AF: Good Food is whatever you want it to be. People nostalgically talk about great meals they have had around the dinner table. They don’t talk about great times that they had around the computer. The fact that people can find an extra two hours a day to surf the internet but complain that they can’t find the time to cook a meal is bothersome to me. Good Food to me means we should be creating new cooks. We need more educated cooks.  Lately people have be focusing on ideas like organic and local, but not everyone has access to all of the organic, sustainable ingredients that are on the market these days. Good Food should be Good Food based on what you can do. I think people are feeling overwhelmed by all of the options on the market and we should be encouraging cooks to do the best that they can do with the ingredients they can attain.

GFR: How do you apply your philosophy of Good Food at home and with your family?

AF: I eat seasonally as best as I can. That being said, I love bananas and as hard as I try I cannot give them up.  I think it’s more about trying to eat less processed stuff. I try to always buy meat from a butcher where I know where the meat has been.  I try to be cognitive of where my food is coming from and which means brought the product to the grocery store.

GFR: Can you remember a particular moment in your past when you decided that Good Food was important to you?

AF: There were a few ‘Ah-ha’ moments. One would be back in the 80’s when Anne Lindsay published her low-fat cookbook.  In the 80’s people weren’t really paying attention to what they ate and I think Lindsay made a great contribution to the Good Food industry.  I think that when Thomas Keller published The French Laundry Cookbook he changed the cookbook industry because he wrote the book in his own words. He didn’t dumb it down for a mainstream audience. I would say that only 10 percent of the people who bought the book actually cooked any of the books recipes. Keller made one of the first coffee table cookbooks. These two ‘Ah-ha’ moments in the food industry really affected me.

GFR: Since you opened The Cookbook Store in 1983 what is the most significant change you have seen in Cookbooks over the past twenty-eight years?

AF: When we first opened, recipe testing was not as rigorous as it is today. Before, there were cookbooks that would instruct you to ‘add a little bit of this and put it in the oven till it’s done’.  I think now you see much more rigorous recipe testing because people can go online and download a recipe from a blog. But, these people are spending their hard-earned money on ingredients for recipes and they want to know that the recipe works. If a recipe hasn’t been edited right the meal can be disastrous. That’s why the production values of these books are stunning. There needs to be rigorous testing.

I remember when we first opened the Cookbook Store there were no computers and there were no celebrity chefs. Low-fat wasn’t even a buzz-word. It was a time before people were checking emails or updating blogs and twitter accounts.  It was before coffee table cookbooks. People are now interested in getting into the chefs mind and understanding why the chef is doing what he does. That’s why cookbooks will never go the way of the Dodo Bird, (for lack of a better expression), because the recipes are compelling and the stories are even more interesting.

GFR: Do you have any predictions for the future of Good Food and the food industry as a whole?

AF: I hope to see more cooks. I think that we have a lot of educated eaters out there but not enough cooks. I think that children should be exposed to different flavours and scents at a young age. I would like to see good eating habits formed in children at a young age and then the good cooking part will follow. At the moment, one of our best selling cookbooks is Jennifer Low, Kids in the Kitchen.  The future of Good Food is with the kids.

The Cook Book Store is located in Yorkville on 850 Yonge Street.

tel: (416) 920-2665



Kylie Meyermann is a contributor at Good Food Revolution.