“Welcome to the belly of the beast,” he says, “this is where the store really begins.”
While the upstairs is stocked with largely available current titles, this is the area where Kitchen Arts houses its rarest treasures — extensive collections of culinary journals, historic tomes and final copies of books that Waxman deems “significant contributions in their field,” as well as out-of-print editions that Waxman is saving until that right client comes along.
He offers an example: “They might come in and say, ‘I’m looking for a special signed boxed-edition of Richard Olney’s ‘The French Menu Cookbook.’ Yeah, we can do that.”
But how to choose which customers are worthy of such special consideration? The opinionated Waxman is as skilled at curating his clientele as he is at managing the store’s catalog.
“This book would be gone in 15 minutes if I put it out on the floor upstairs,” he says, pointing to a high corner shelf where a hardbound first edition of “White Heat,” by British bad boy chef Marco Pierre White, sits in pristine condition. “I don’t want to sell it to someone who’s going to put it on their shelf like a bowling trophy, but perhaps to someone who’s interested in post-World War II English cooking, to whom this would mean something.”
Before the tour is complete, Waxman heads to an even smaller back corner of the basement, a tiny vault of a closet that used to be the walk-in refrigerator when this address was a butcher shop. The shelves here contain what seems a perfect cross-section of his personal and professional interests — a collection of vintage Jewish cookbooks. There, one can find a 1960s stuffed cabbage recipe from the sisterhood of Congregation Brith Emeth near Pepper Pike, Ohio. In a Manischewitz book from the early 1930s, meanwhile, there are recipes for “farfel pudding No. 2,” “matzo schalet” and “vaffels” written with instructions in both English and Yiddish.
“These are suddenly in demand, now that people are rediscovering Yiddish,” Waxman says with the matter-of-fact tone of a sage who knew all along that such a resurgence would occur. But, of course, those new Yiddish scholars will have to travel to the Upper East Side and pay a visit to Waxman himself: “These,” he says, “these are not for sale.”
See Nach Waxman’s brisket recipe on the Jew and the Carrot and share your favorite brisket recipe.
Nach Waxman is owner of one of the largest food bookstores in the country, Kitchen Arts & Letters, in Manhattan. From his perch behind the counter, he sees customers—famous chefs, not-famous line cooks, and civilians alike—streaming in to peruse his bountiful, unusual collection. Waxman shows us the basement, where hes got some truly rare books. And he shares an unlikely bookstore success story: beating Barnes & Noble.
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