Jeff plants a treasure from his cookbook collection on Heston's empty desk one day—a rare edition of The Physiology of Taste--at that time his most prized possession, with a value of $1200. Jeff knows he will likely never see that book for sale again in his lifetime.
He waits, watching Heston come and go from his office. As days pass he loses heart and wonders about ways to get the book back. On the third day Heston yells Jeff's name into the kitchen and Jeff steps forward. That magical exchange that Crump initiated "worked like a charm" he says, paving the way for Heston to make a lasting contribution to the Earth To Table cookbook.
It's a story big enough to fill the hole the book left in Crump's stellar cookbook collection. He'll continue to look for that book. But the looking is also an interesting thing. Crump eschews the Internet beyond its usefulness as a tool for research. He doesn't buy collectibles online. "You can get any book you want online," he says. Turns out that one of the best things about building a cookbook collection is the real life search.
It's a sentiment echoed by Elizabeth Crahan in a 1984 New York Times piece written on the sale of her late husband, Marcus Crahan's extraordinary gastronomic book collection. She states: "a lot of the fun is in the collecting itself." Crump's first edition copy of M.F.K Fisher's How To Cook A Wolf has a Marcus Crahan bookplate affixed to its inner cover. They are kindred souls separated by a couple of generations.
In fact the owning of a collection can raise some downright practical issues as anyone who's ever had to move a library well knows. Books are heavy and come in all shapes and sizes. A collection will inevitably expand. Up until quite recently Crump's collection was in boxes in the basement of his home. His new office—a calm, earthy, accomplished space—was built with the books in mind. He has roughly 1,000; most in this office but many in the kitchens of restaurants he manages. Jeff's passion is contagious—he's created a two-week sign out system for his cooks.
He knows it begins early. His own collection started with the purchase of Chez Panisse Cooking, the Random House paperback edition, while a student at the Stratford Chefs School. It's held together with duct tape and is full of stains and handwritten notes. The glorious 1988 hardcover of the same book—now a collectible itself—is also in Crump's possession. The search for that book is what lured him into serious collecting. But from the very start, even at just 7 books housed in a small apartment in Toronto, his cookbooks were his most prized possession. His current search for collectibles is for him a privilege born of success.
It's not about the physical books, the scale of the collection, or the monetary value. "If it was about the money you wouldn't collect cookbooks" Crump states. It's about a book's life—its content and passage through time.
While on a family trip to California several years ago Crump lands at San Francisco's Omnivore Books at the same time as several boxes of cookbooks from Jeremiah Tower's collection. He talks with wonder about standing among those boxes. The occasion seems much more than coincidence; it's serendipitous. Tower's was the first chef at Chez Panisse. From the boxes Crump purchases a copy of Richard Olney's French Menu Cookbook. The books original purchase date of 1970 recorded in the front cover by Tower's own hand; Chez Panisse opens in 1971. Crump knows that book was in the kitchen with Alice and Jeremiah when it all began—the stains on its pages the product of their labour. That's what Crump values–the life or soul of a cookbook.
He's taken with what he dubs "halo" books—famous books owned by famous people. Beyond the Tower's and Marcus Crahan purchases he has a copy of the Simple Art of Japanese Cooking by Shizuo Tsuji, once owned by the writer and gastronome Samuel Chamberlain famous for the cookbook Clémentine in the Kitchen.
But Crump remains unaffected by lofty purchases. He pulls a copy of the River Cafe Blue Book gifted to him by Anne Yarymowich from the shelves. As a line cook in the AGO kitchens he cooked that book, cover to cover. When he left, Anne replaced his used copy with a new one and taped a photo of the AGO kitchen crew to the book's front page. It's the kind of gesture that reaches right into his heart. He opens it up with great pride.
Before he leaves this earth he wants to own all of Elizabeth David and M.F.K. Fisher's first editions in mint condition. He has some but will repurchase books if they're in better condition. He's also on the hunt for first edition books from Michael Pollan and Anthony Bourdain. He looks for books that have staying power, that are of interest to those with little connection to the original. He uses White Heat from Marco Pierre White as an example of a cookbook many young people covet but were not old enough to recall that moment in time when Marco shared his youthful brilliance with a hungry world. Crump wonders if current books like Alinea and Noma will rise to collector status.
He thumbs through Chez Panisse Cooking to demonstrate the timeless quality of a great cookbook, landing on the recipe for "Marinated Veal Chops Grilled Over an Oak Fire." He talks of the first appeal of that recipe in 1997 and then goes on to marvel at the practice of cooking over a wood fire—that skill now the thing that gives him pause.
He doesn't know what the collection's afterlife will be. He holds out hope that his sons might want it but doesn't want it to be a burden should they not. "This is only valuable to me because it is incredibly personal. I bought every book for a reason."
He shrugs off the notion that he is the keeper of tradition and proclaims himself a student, just as he was in the kitchen at the Fat Duck. "I'm a very committed student—that's what I've always been." It's an attitude that's led him to tremendous success. There's humility in the idea that the learning never ends and his cookbook collection tells a remarkable story of his passage through time.
 Paul Bertolli with Alice Waters, Chez Panisse Cooking, (New York: Random House, Inc., 1988) p. 234