Cookbook store profile - Kitchen Witch

kitchen witch cookbook storeThis is the latest installment of the EYB feature highlighting independent cookbook stores. We hope you will discover (or get reacquainted with) a store near your home - or plan a new target destination when you travel. We keep an ongoing list of cookbook stores but we'd love to learn about more - especially those treasured by our members. So please share the names of independent cookbook stores that you know, love, and admire. Add a comment to this posting, or email us at info@eatyourbooks.com with the name, address, and owner (if you know it). We'll do the rest.

This month we travel to Louisiana to visit Kitchen Witch Cookbooks, a small book shop in the heart of the French Quarter in New Orleans. Owners Philipe LaMancusa and Debbie Lindsey opened the store on the heels of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and have remained in the same location ever since. However, they are facing a rent increase situation similar to the one Bonnie Slotnick experienced last year. Debbie answered our questions about the shop and their current predicament:

You opened right after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans? Why, and how hard was it?

Because we ain't got a lick of sense!  Well, that's a given, however I guess it was part Philipe's dream, part the opportunity of this wonderful space being available, and a kinda of "what the hell, we made it through Katrina so why not!"  You ask how hard was it--Very Hard!  The city was still pretty empty.  We were one of the first new businesses to open after the Flood. But the volunteers spent money and the few tourists we had spent and shopped with passion--they gave back to the city with their tourist dollars.

I gather you are having some rent issues with your landlord right now.  What is happening and is there anything that cookbook store lovers can do to help? 

Our landladies have been wonderful for the past 10 years.  To begin with we dealt only with one of the four sisters who own this historic gem of a building.  She enabled us to open and stay the course through the recession, BP oil spill, road construction, minor hurricanes, and of course the slow but steady recovery from Katrina--she did this with extremely fair rent and a rent-controlled lease.  This is why we are so shocked at the 115% increase that will begin October 31 if we should renew our lease (which we can not begin to afford, nor is the location worth it).  We counter offered a figure that we deem fair and are waiting for a reply.  It is not looking good.

Debbie LindseyWhat is your own background with cookbooks?

Philipe LaMancusa, my business partner and sweetheart, is the cookbook expert.  He has been a professional chef for a million years and has been an avid cookbook reader and book collector for decades.  When we met (16 years ago) I didn't know MFK Fisher from Justin Wilson but when we went into this venture I began to learn, learn, and still have buckets of info to learn still.  However, I do have 42 years in the restaurant business, but mainly "front of the house"-- I left the cooking to the experts!

Does the store specialize in any areas of cookbooks?

We range from Asia to Alabama.  We have 10,000 cook and food related books--new, used and out-of-print. The prices range from $2 to $2,000 [USD].

What are the rarest and most expensive vintage cookbooks you have sold?

First editions of Julia Child and MFK, several White House cookbooks, The Anarchist's Cookbook, Apicus, Modernist Cuisine, and obscure little gems. 

What events do you offer in the store? 

Book signings, which are code for lots of unpretentious wine and beer!

What are your favorite and best-selling Cajun and Creole cookbooks?

Paul Prudhomme's Louisiana Kitchen (the Bible--one of the best),  Richard and Rima Collins' New Orleans Cookbook, Cooking up a Storm, Austin Leslie's Creole-Soul, Gumbo Shop by Richard Stewart, anything by Chef Folse, John Besh or Donald Link.  A favorite local book of mine is Sara Roahen's Gumbo Tales (no recipes but great reading to learn about our food culture).

Are many of your customers professional chefs? What are the books that they are buying now?

Yes.  Out of town chefs buy many of the above local cookbooks.  And of course, Le Repertoire de La Cuisine, Escoffier, La Technique, and most food literature of course are popular choices. 

What type of books do you like to cook from yourself? Do you have a favorite cookbook of all time?

Heck, I don't cook!!  Why should I?  I have my very own personal chef, Philipe!  Seriously, I love all things to do with food, like I said I have served it for 42 years.  I am a dyed-in-the-wool waitress, grease makes up 90% of my being; I wear an invisible apron!  With this said I have two sentimental favorites:  The Mobile Junior League's Recipe Jubilee (was my Mom's go-to book) and Creole-Soul -- great book and I adore Austin Leslie (he passed as result of Katrina but lives on in his cookbooks).

When we had to abandon our home after Katrina (thinking we would never return or see our stuff again), Philipe had 5,000 cookbooks throughout the house and he could take only one--it was his duct taped together copy of The Escoffier Cook Book.  (Of course we returned, all was intact, and we used his collection as our opening inventory.)  I couldn't have done it without Philipe or his beautiful books.

1 Comment

  • TrishaCP  on  8/25/2015 at 8:30 PM

    I love Kitchen Witch and try to stop by whenever I visit New Orleans. Sad to hear about the rental problems but I wish them a speedy and positive resolution.

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