Books for Cooks
Some people can’t stop buying shoes. Others have the compulsion to stockpile vast amounts of tinned food, ‘for when the balloon goes up’. For me, it’s cookbooks. I currently have three shelves of the things: that’s because we only have three spare shelves – the rest of the collection is massed in tottering piles around the flat, which periodically change configuration when I realise that the recipe for thing I really, really want to make is likely to be lurking right at the bottom, under three culinary encyclopaedias and a book on traditional Scottish baked goods. When, about once a month, my boyfriend vents his frustration re our slightly cramped living conditions, I usually try and put the blame on Books for Cooks. It is well nigh impossible to go into the place without buying anything, I swear. But let us travel to Notting Hill to try.
Stepping inside the shop, modestly squashed between a bookies and the back door of a record dealers, you’ll notice the bewitching smell. I can appreciate the pong of musty second-hand paperbacks or crisp, freshly cut academic tomes as well as the next geek, but frankly I prefer the aroma of lavender shortbread hot from the oven, and you’re not likely to get that in Blackwell’s. Crane your neck towards the back of the shop, and you’ll spot an open kitchen, where recipes from the books that cram the shelves from floor to ceiling come to life for the delectation of greedy customers.
Now, what takes your fancy today? Mastering the basics of Ethiopian cookery perhaps, or finding out how to make your weekly shopping budget go further in these straitened times? Or maybe you’d like a copy of Fuschia Dunlop’s excellent memoir of her years as a cookery student in provincial China, or an essay on the decline of the British fishing industry? Not a problem. Although the shop does not have a definitive stock list (with over 8,000 books on the shelves, plus more being published, reprinted or going out of print every week, they point out such a thing would be redundant before the ink was dry), the staff, led by enthusiastic owners Rosie and chef Eric, will always be able to point you in the right direction, and offer their own recommendations as the cherry on the cake. There are no bored students behind the counter here, only kindred spirits – in fact, Rosie herself came in initially as a customer, got chatting to the founder (and then owner) Heidi Lascelles, and left with a job. So I like to consider every visit career-building.
Once you’ve amassed a selection of tomes, follow your nose back to the kitchen, and find out what’s cooking: the menu changes daily according to what’s available at nearby Portobello Market, and which book has been plucked from the nearby shelves to provide the recipe. Previous Books for Cooks chefs include Clarissa Dickson Wright, in her pre-Fat Lady days, and author Annie Bell, but whoever’s working will be happy to chat about what they’ve been testing as they serve you up something delicious. They’ll also be able to tell you how you can get even closer to the action: the shop’s upstairs kitchen is the venue for a variety of foodie events such as tutored wine tastings, children’s baking classes and cookery masterclasses from authors like Ursula Ferrigno, Lindsey Bareham, and Eric himself.
Take a slice of cake back to the sofa you’ve just passed, and sit down. Open the first book. If you ignore the sound of your wallet gently weeping, you could well be in heaven.
Books for Cooks
4 Blenheim Crescent
London W11 1NN
T 020 7221 1992
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