Bonnie Slotnick in her world of books. Photo: Maria Boyadjieva
Specialty bookstores welcome visitors to literature of food
by genia gould
Cookbooks enjoy a heaping boost in sales before the holiday season. People like to give them — or keep them and explore recipes, upgrade cooking and baking skills, and add to the cookbook collection.
In Manhattan, three small independent bookshops that specialize in cookbooks are getting ready for the big season. Each store is different, but they all offer visitors from a digital age the chance to experience the sensory pleasures of a good bookstore.
Kitchen Arts & Letters on Lexington Avenue between 93rd and 94th Streets, stocks the most contemporary books. Many of their clientele make a living cooking. They’re in the restaurant business as private chefs, caterers and restaurant owners, says Matt Sartwell, a managing partner of the shop. It’s been in business since 1983.
“Just as many customers are beginners at cooking, who might want to make their first cake,” he adds.
Sartwell says that books doing well include “Simple” by British food writer Diane Henry, “who has a terrific sense of flavor.” Another popular book: Anthony Bourdain’s newly released “Appetites” — much anticipated from an author who hadn’t published in a decade. The shop stocks titles that they’ve also imported, such as one about food of the Jews of India.
The book they’ve sold the most of is Harold McGee’s “On Food and Cooking” — about the chemistry and physics of how food and ingredients behave, and how cooking affects them.
In addition to selling books, Kitchen Arts & Letters hosts lectures at the 92nd Street Y, featuring professionals in the food world. “Some are for fun, some more scholarly,” Sartwell says. Coming up before the end of the year is one about Scandinavian comfort food.
1435 Lexington Ave.
Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks, on the Lower East Side, is another world of books. The store’s been in business since 1997.
Her collection includes out-of-print and antiquarian books. Slotnick carefully chooses what goes into her shop.
A myriad of vintage books on Italian and French foods and surprising books from all over the world line the shelves and dazzle the memory. She carries what she calls “Mother Books,” — books that people’s mothers had. They’re classics like the Betty Crockers, the Fanny Farmers and the Better Homes and Gardens. They’re “standard American books,” she says.
Most of the books here range in price from $10 to $20. But occasionally something like a signed copy of Julia Child’s cookbook will appear and can go for hundreds of dollars.
The cozy shop, dotted with decorative kitchen utensils, encourages browsing and people “sort of disappear into the back of the store,” Slotnick says. “They don’t even know that they’re there. They just go off into a trance or a peaceful place in their brain.”
Going into a store is a completely different experience than a digital search, she argues.
“You never know what’s going to hit your eye,” she says. “You may want something in particular and something else will hit your eye and you go home with that.”
The relationship with customers is a real thing to Slotnick.
“There’s synergy,” she says. “It’s not just something you pick and acquire, with no contact with the seller. And I obviously have opinions about what I sell.”
28 East Second St.
Joanne Hendricks Cookbooks on Greenwich Street near Canal Street is a vintage and antique cookbook collector’s paradise.
It’s located in an original Early American brick Federal-style structure, designed with salvaged windows and doors collected around New England. Hendricks has been in business since 1995. This bookshop is primarily for collectors and prices range from $30 to thousands of dollars. The collection includes many early 18th-century through 20th-century books, and a wonderful collection of British cookery and cocktail books.
High up above the book shelves are designer teapots, and tableware. In cabinets there are unexpected objects, like a decades-old can of Campbell’s soup signed by Andy Warhol.
“It’s amazing what people want to buy,” she says, adding that people make special trips from all over the world to her shop. She says cocktail books are a big seller.
She says the special books Hendricks likes to keep stocked on her shelves include: “Tiffany Table Manners”; and a book called “Grace Before Meals.” The latter contains a little prayer for every day of the year. She has an early edition from 1933 of that one.
When it comes to cooking, she has a much-used copy of Fannie Farmer Cookbook. It’s held together with rubber bands, she says.
A pie maker herself, Hendricks sound passionate about cooking, whether it’s buying chestnuts and walnuts by the bushel or seeing the emotional impact of a meal.
“I enjoy cooking,” she says. “I enjoy seeing a happy family.”
488 Greenwich St.