Kitchen Arts and Letters is one of the great treasures ofÂ New York. Owner Nach Waxman started the store after a career in academia and publishing, but he has found a great fit in this bookstore, which has everything from a recent blockbuster cookbook to a book on the role of gastronomy in the plays of Moliere.
Waxman is more than just a bookstore owner, he is a curator, and the choice of books in the store reflects the best of what's out there. Dealing in both new books and used and out of print, Waxman and his employees will track down a book that he thinks is a good fit for his customers. And those customers aren't just any old drop ins, the patrons of Kitchen Arts and Letters come from downtown and up, from outside of New York and as far away as New Zealand.
MarcusSamuelsson.com caught up with Mr. Waxman recently to pick his brain, which is almost as full of knowledge as his store is of books, and to hear about his experience. This first interview is the first in the series. First, Waxman gives an introduction to the store. Check back next week for more about the customers, the books, and what makes a cookbook worth publishing.
What is Kitchen Arts and Letters?
The store opened in '83, and I brought to it a background of publishing and books. Food was something I knew about and cared about, but food wasn't point central on this. It was determined early that I wanted to do food, but the point was and I've stuck to that to this day to have nobody come in and mistake it for anything but a bookstore. We don't sell tchotchkes. We carried one food product in the entire time we've been here. It was an olive oil from France that we happened to like.
What kinds of books do you carry?
We're not a cookbook store, we're a bookstore that specializes in food and wine. Maybe as little as half the books are actually cookbooks, the other half are books about everything related to the entire world of food from how we get it to how we think about it.
We have books on agriculture, food processing and manufacturing, books on the restaurant industry. There's everything from restaurant purchasing to how to design a bar.
We don't kid around, it's meant to be for people who are thinking about food in it's broadest social and cultural existence.
What does that mean?
It's not just what goes on in the kitchen, it's what goes on in every aspect of our lives from the ways we produce and buy the food to the things we pay attention to when we make it and when we serve it
A lot of anthropology here, we're as interested in what kind of Bessel food traditional made or served in as the recipe and as interested in the history of that recipe as we are in the details of making it
The thing that I always think about when I think about the store is the breadth of it. That we really try to give a subject in its full scope. And to do that we carry not only the books that are readily available and not only the books that are just hard to get, but we really pride ourselves on carrying the books you've never heard of. 35 to 40 percent of our sales are books that are imported both in English and foreign languages.
-- Check back next week for Part 2!
Kitchen Arts and Letters is located at 1345 Lexington Avenue, New York, NY.