PERHAPS YOU HAVE noticed something unexpected coming out of Browser Books lately — the smell of soup cooking, or shrimp scampi sauteeing, or fragrant onions softening in a skillet.
That’s an added benefit of the new cooking demonstrations Browser Books is now sponsoring each month. Randy Denham, a retired caterer who two years ago began working in the bookstore on weekends, is in charge, cooking in the store and serving up samples.
You’re doing cooking demonstrations in a bookstore?
That’s right. Every third Saturday and Sunday, starting at 2 p.m., Browser Books is cooking right in the store from the cookbooks we sell. Browser Books has a stunning cookbook collection lining the wall behind the cash register — an entire array of the newest, best and most beautiful cookbooks out today.
How did you become such a big fan of cookbooks?
I’m a self-taught chef, and I believe that people can teach themselves how to cook from books, whether professionally or for home use. It was a simple jump to setting up a kitchen in the middle of the store, putting out some burners, pots and pans and going to town with the newest books.
What kinds of dishes have you made?
The Browser kitchen has come up with pan-seared ribeye steak in a brown pan sauce, poached salmon with buerre blanc sauce, Vietnamese spring rolls and some great desserts.
How did the idea come about?
The entire staff of the bookstore loves food, all of us have a knowledge of cookbooks and we’re proud of our cooking interests. We got together and thought it would be a great thing if we cooked from the cookbooks and talked about the cookbooks and sold them that way.
When did you start?
We tried it a couple of times last summer. We’ve been doing the regular once-a-month slot since November. We do it every third Saturday and Sunday. We hope it will help keep us on the map, because it’s hard times for small, independent bookstores. But I really think that’s changing. How many Borders are in town now, after all? Seems like there’s not a Barnes & Noble anymore, either.
Some of the authors are local?
We use different cookbooks. Yesterday I used Charles Phan’s The Slanted Door cookbook.
And did our neighbor come in while you were cooking from his book?
No, he didn’t. He runs a very busy restaurant empire, so we’ll forgive him. But who knows — he might.
But you have had visits from local cookbook authors?
We have. Joanne Weir came in the day after I used her Kitchen Gypsy. She signed all the copies of the book. Carol Field has come in and talked about her cookbooks. She has a lot to say about Italy. It’s great when people come in who have books we’ve used.
And do other authors come in?
When Patti Smith was playing at The Fillmore, she came into the store and talked with one of the clerks and said she’d like to sign her book. The clerk said, “Oh, you wrote a book? Which book is it?” She pointed to M Train, her newest book, and the clerk realized who she was, and she signed all of her books. She was rehearsing down the street.
It’s amazing the people I’ve talked to. I had a great conversation with Oliver Sacks about Andy Warhol and contemporary art.
How did you come to be the Browser chef?
It’s a retirement job for me. I came here with 15 years of cooking experience in my own catering company and several restaurants around the Bay Area — and a passion for food that has lasted a lifetime.
This is a fun new community event where neighbors can gather, cookbook aficionados can learn about new books and people can sample great recipes.
Would you like to try a spring roll?