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A Day at Kitchen Arts & Letters

A Day at Kitchen Arts & Letters

What do we do here? Who do we help? 

Matt wrote a version of this article about five years ago. It's a hybrid of many days at the store, but it gives you an idea of why people come to us and how we try to help them. Some specific details have changed, most notably the loss of Nach Waxman, but the spirit is the same.

10:00 The store opens. One of us starts responding to emails and processing overnight web orders. Someone else begins restocking the shelves with books that were sold the day before.

10:18 A customer calls seeking an out-of-print Madhur Jaffrey book. This one was released under several different titles, but we’re able to consult a reference copy from the store’s basement to be sure we’ll be pursuing the right book.

10:31 A visitor from Indiana asks whether we have any Slovenian cookbooks. We apologize for only having three different titles on hand.

10:54 UPS delivers a new shipment from France. The books are so well packed that it will take an hour just to unpack five cartons. Foam peanuts get everywhere.

11:03 An email arrives with photographs of several bookcases’ worth of food titles being sold by an estate. Nach begins reviewing them to see if he’s interested in buying any of them.

11:24 A neighborhood customer drops in to say her doctor has suggested she eat more fish; we help her find a book that is practical for weeknight cooking.

11:36 While a father browses the cocktail section, we distract his impatient toddler with a couple of Beanie Babies. Nach makes funny faces at the kid, which works even better.

12:13 A pastry chef from an Chicago hotel stocks up on back issues of European pastry magazines. She asks us to ship them to her work.

12:49 Three culinary students from Providence, RI arrive and spend the next hour looking at imports from Scandinavia and Spain.

1:04 An experienced home cook arrives. She’s worried because she has agreed to make the cake for her son’s wedding and she has never decorated her cakes with anything more than powdered sugar. We start pulling out decorating books with lots of simple ideas.

1:34 Phone call from Ireland. The chef at a private club is interested in newly published books by American chefs.

1:42 We are admonished for not having English-language translations of several books. We’re not able to help the customer understand the difference between a book store and a publisher.

1:58 A man comes in looking for a copy of a Paulo Coehlo book. We explain that we only carry food and drink titles. “That will never last,” he says while leaving.

2:11 A couple who live in an apartment upstairs brings us some tomatoes from the garden at their upstate house.

2:23 A food journalist from Sao Paulo arrives to interview us about the store and take photographs for an article that will appear in a Brazilian magazine.

3:07 We pull out more than twenty books trying to find information for a food historian investigating the use of French vs. English vocabulary for recipe titles in 19th-century American cookbooks.

3:18 For a tenth-anniversary present, a man asks our help in selecting ten books for his husband. We giftwrap them all.

4:04 Two sisters from Florida arrive, looking for a book their mother owned in 1967; they disagree about the exact title and the book’s appearance but luckily remember several key recipes. After a little detective work, we’re able to identify the book.

4:17 The author of a forthcoming food history book drops in to make sure we’re aware the book is being published. We’re delighted to show him that his publisher has already sent us an advance reading copy.

4:26 A downtown restaurant manager calls and asks us to pick out five reading books for one of her servers who broke a leg skateboarding to work.

4:41 After browsing for half an hour or so, a customer leaves and forgets a bag containing four cheeses from Lucy’s Whey down the street. Luckily, we know where she lives and can drop them off with her doorman.

5:09 Seven back issues of PPC magazine are sold and shipped to a visitor from Melbourne, Australia.

5:13 Searching the stock in response to a request for books on the food of ancient Egypt, we’re disappointed to realize that one of them offers a salad containing tomatoes. Tomatoes didn’t arrive in the Old World before the Columbian Exchange began in the 16th century.

5:34 A line cook from Brooklyn comes in to pick up a couple of copies of Art Culinaire magazine featuring a restaurant in San Francisco where he worked.

5:50 The customer looking at salad books wants assurance that one of us has cooked from each of the books he is considering. We can’t provide it and he leaves empty handed.

6:11 A young couple visiting from France wants a book about typical American baked goods. There has to be a brownie recipe and one for cheesecake. We answer this question several times a week. Matt briefly contemplates opening a brownie shop in the Marais.

6:30 We close for the day.

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