Cookbooks Recipes Retail

Interview Spotlight: Bonnie Slotnick, NYC’s Favorite Cookbook Store Owner

display-window-for-bonnie-slotnick-cookbooks_storyslide_image.jpg

Today we chat with Bonnie Slotnick, owner of the beloved West Village shop, Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks, which stocks thousands of out-of-print and antiquarian cookbooks. Here, she tells us about the most expensive cookbook she’s ever sold, bizarre recipes, and what Hugh Dancy bought for Claire Danes.

October also marks 15 years Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks has been in business, and to celebrate, Bonnie is offering 15% off all month on items purchased in-store. This includes her beautifully curated selection of vintage kitchen items, postcards, and linens.

Cookbook Create: Where did you grow up? Did you know you wanted to be a bookseller at a young age?

Bonnie: I grew up in Lakewood, New Jersey, which is enough to make some people stop reading [laughs]. It was just a sweet small town back then. I never thought I would be a bookseller but I started collecting books because of Publisher’s Clearinghouse—they would send us their catalogues of discounted books, which I took so much pleasure in perusing. Most of the books were just a dollar or two, and pretty soon I had a little collection.

 

Originally, I wanted to be a commercial artist. I went Parsons School of Design and studied fashion illustration. I had a work-study job in the school library and ended up working there full-time for five years after graduation. My career path had already begun to veer away from art and into books! In 1984 I decided that cookbook publishing might be the perfect field for me, and I found an entry-level job with an innovative cookbook packager. Shortly afterward, I met with the owner of Kitchen Arts & Letters, a new store specializing in cookbooks, and I became their book scout, searching for out-of-print titles customers requested. I had already begun collecting cookbooks, so why not turn that into a (marginally) profitable side job? From them on, all my vacations were devoted to book buying. Over the years I accumulated a few thousand titles for store stock.

After twelve years with Kitchen Arts, it was time to go out on my own. I rented a basement office and filled it with my stock of old cookbooks. Just a month later—in November 1997—Florence Fabricant highlighted the shop in her “Food Stuff” column in The New York Times. The story appeared on the day before Thanksgiving—a day when readers pay special attention to the paper’s food section. Word was out!

Image

CC: What was your family like?

Bonnie: My father was a life insurance salesman, and my mother was a nursery school teacher. My sister is a professor with two Ph.D’s. She’s always been such an academic overachiever, and I wanted to do something completely different.

CC: Can you tell us about a family recipe or tradition that has been passed down from generation to generation?

Bonnie: One of my favorites is a poppy seed (mohn, in Yiddish) drop cookie that I have been baking since I was about seven. The recipe came from my grandmother, who died when I was very young, and I used to bake the cookies with my mother and sister. Then there’s the chocolate layer cake we always had for birthdays. My mother got the recipe from a Swan’s Down cake flour box, and she used a Sunbeam Mixmaster to make it. To this day the mere sight of a Mixmaster makes me swoon. The cake had a chocolate cream cheese frosting, which she swirled with a butter knife–mmm! I still make it every year for my birthday.

CC: Is there a particular era or niche you are drawn to?

Bonnie: For cookbooks, the 1850’s – 1950’s—an era before mass media really took over, when American life was still based around the home. Much of the West Village, where I’ve lived for about 40 years, was built in the nineteenth century, and it’s easy to picture what it was like back then because so much of it is blessedly unchanged. I live in a building that dates from 1892, and I can imagine a woman in long, heavy skirts climbing the three flights of marble steps to my apartment, struggling with her shopping baskets.

CC: How are cookbooks selling today? Do you think sales are in any way correlated with how much people are actually cooking?

Bonnie: That’s a good question. I don’t carry the practical stock of say, Barnes and Noble, and I don’t know about sales of new cookbooks. I think people are more interested in food in an in-depth way than they were 20 years ago. I sell a lot of food history books, memoirs, sociological studies of various cuisines, monographs on particular ingredients. And then there are all the people (myself included) who read cookbooks “like novels,” and who may or may not use the recipes.

CC: What’s the most expensive book you’ve ever sold?

Bonnie:: I just sold it yesterday! It’s “The House Servant’s Directory” by Robert Roberts, copyright 1827, and it is one of the first books by an African-American man to be published commercially in the United States. This copy came from a chef who lives here in the neighborhood. I sold it for $5,000 to a scholar and collector from Texas. The second most expensive was a first edition (1931) of ”The Joy of Cooking,” which I sold for $4,000; there were only 3,000 copies printed, so there are very few available today.

CC: If you could describe you store in one word, what would it be?

Bonnie: Cozy.

CC: What are your best sellers?

Bonnie:: I sell a lot of American standards—Betty Crocker, Better Homes & Gardens, Good Housekeeping, and the like—to people who want the same book their mother had. Food history, biographies of chefs, and baking books are always popular. Basic cookbook and how-to books are in demand, too: Because of the economy, a lot of customers come in and say, “I just can’t afford to eat out anymore.” They want to start cooking at home and they want fairly simple recipes.

CC: What is your favorite cookbook?

Bonnie: The Country Kitchen, by Della Lutes, is just a perfect book in every way. It was published in 1936. The cover is red and white gingham fabric, and the recipes are woven into a charming, very personal narrative of farm life in the late nineteenth century. There are, I think, five sequels to it; they’re less about cooking, but some delicious descriptions of country meals always turn up in them.
I generally dislike the contemporary cookbook culture because there is so much emphasis on celebrity chefs, hype, and contests – like, “how to get cook time down to 30 seconds or less!” These are books I don’t want or need in my store. I’m more comfortable with books that have stood the test of time.

CC: Have you ever cooked a recipe from one of your antiquarian cookbooks?

Bonnie: I’ve tried, but I know enough about the changes in materials and equipment to realize that you need some specialized knowlege to cook from them. Let’s say you wanted to use a ninenteenth-century cake recipe. Well, it wouldn’t give you an oven temperature because ovens didn’t have thermostats until the nineteen-teens; it might not say what type of flour to use, what size pan was required, or how to long to bake the cake, other than “until done.”

It wasn’t around the turn of the twentieth century, and the birth of the home economics movement, that recipes became “scientific” and precise. Then convenience products like Bisquick and Crisco came along, and the goal was to make cooking “quick and easy”: The fewer ingredients, the fewer bowls and pots and minutes spent cooking, the better. Now, after a century of that, ingredient lists and recipe instructions in cookbooks are becoming much more explicit, because basic cooking skills are no longer common knowledge. Readers may not know the meaning of terms like “fold” or “poach” or “blanch,” so the recipe has to explain them.

CC: Have you had any celebrity customers?

Bonnie: I’ve had a fair share of chefs, especially local ones, come in, and also some of the Food Network celebrities. Then there are people famous in other fields, most of whom I don’t recognize until I see the name on the credit card. Sean Lennon came in once with his girlfriend; they were living in the neighborhood at the time. Kieffer Sutherland shopped here a few times when he lived up the street; he was very serious about choosing the right books. The actor Hugh Dancy stopped in to buy a book for his then-fiancée, Claire Danes. She was just starting to cook so he wanted something accessible and visual. I suggested “The River Cafe Cookbook” by Rose Gray and Ruth Rodgers, which is from a very fine Italian restaurant in London. He said he had a copy himself, so he knew it would suit her.

CC: Most bizarre recipe that comes to mind?

Bonnie: There’s a book called “10,000 Snacks,” by Cora, Rose, and Bob Brown, which closes with a recipe for clam chowder to serve 1,000. And here’s Sylvia Boorman’s foraging book, “Wild Plums in Brandy” from 1962, with a recipe for “Barbequed Porcupine Haunches.”

CC: Hmm… tasty!

– Alisa Richter

Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks
163 W. 10th St., New York, NY, near Waverly Place
Phone: 212-989-8962
bonnieslotnickbooks@earthlink.net

bonnieslotnickcookbooks.com

 

You Might Also Like

2 Comments

  • Reply Joyce @ Quilted Nest October 18, 2012 at 9:17 pm

    Charming in every way!

    • Reply Alisa Richter October 22, 2012 at 3:47 pm

      So glad you liked it!

    Leave a Reply

    convivenceicld stocktwitsamcc stock price123move compaintshop pro x6 system requirementsnasdaq apdncerevrumgator emr123resģooglegkos stock pricenasdaq sflynyse ztsabbvie stock pricesams mwcesu7www nubk comlrgr stockadmt stockasus chromebook flip c302 best buyaieq holdingsptoi stockserguei beloussovtril stock pricemass effect andromeda dialogue symbolsmsi gt70 2pc dominator ssdbecton dickinson stock pricee3360btbose sportsound wirelesshp pavilion 15 au063how to turn off gear iconxsamsung wb350f reviewf2pool mining softwarenyse anfimjco stockhow to change master password on dashlanenikon d3400 dual lens camera outfitblph stock pricenvda cramertsra stocksony str-dh810belkin n52temetro pcs bill floatlightworks movshapr app reviewsemlp stocknyse paycfcps1otcmkts mmexfnwbkingii wristbandsamsung un40mu6300 reviewtqqq stockbelkin powerhouse charge dock for apple watch and iphoneesnt stocklg10kipod shuffle 4rd generationvoxelusbypass firmware password macbook airawgiac1900plogitech mm50bvxvacer chromebook n15q9huawei swype keyboardendp premarkethp3830 inkamd eight core fx 8320 vishera processorekso stock price todayadrny stockrgbpgtt stock pricesteelseries siberia 840 reviewasus mb168bnvcn stock pricevxus etfgtx 1080tqqewcsse stock pricestovepipe jamfujio mitaraigsbd stockolympus e520 pricexslate r12preloaded nintendo nesmirrorlink apps for galaxy s6lg 65uh7700 reviewabcd pattern stockszogenix stock priceaprn nysesamsung hw j650hybrid fibre coaxial hfc speedsurna incpopcornflix rokuks8000 rtingssnp500acfn stockmartian notifier smartwatchescient fireballtynker reviewmaingear r1xbr 55x900azuta portable printermkq92ll aendp stock newsjp5 tablet pricedownload myzone appjublfood share priceblrx stockar 15 sportsmans warehouse8pack orionxlenovo t440p specsm277c6optoma hd28dsedxpscsj etfvol index thinkorswimdayshavoosony htct790 reviewbloodbath of b r5rbmymeticsyamaha rxa760dell e7470 specsmbvt stockprocter gamble stock quotebrtxwhdfmyzone heart rate monitornia pokkeninsidrauph stock after hoursfugoo speaker reviewfndfbd p3600lnkd stock pricedell latitude e5530 specsnvidia ntunenyse hovcrtn stockpentax ks2 reviewiconsumer stockmindhunter explainedhdil stock pricelubuntu vnc viewerftmdf stockjames howells bitcoinapd stock price todayplantronics backbeat procas latency ram meaningcoracao dolardbjppcpgastro a50 base station release datealienware m14 gaming laptopyaddle scenertix stock pricesabra health care reitnyse nweroku express 5ghzwint stock pricewickr sextingcryptogonapple chinavpnlg 55uh6090 specsbsm driving simulatorbrother mfc l2740dw setupnasdaq cvvconfigure xfinity routercmrx stock pricenasdaq amedzurvita preciosnyse qhcuspyintel nuc skull canyon reviewtbio stock newsmmrblink ultraviolet to vuduprebuilt mining rigvuzix stock priceaoc e1759fwunyse tdypanasonic dmp ub300xenta hdmicffn stockoled65c6p pricemmgf2ll a specssnipping tool hotkeymeridian f80 ipod dockvvixnasdaq mrtxxcrawww webcrimslenovo t450 specsh61mxmnov stock pricesamsung ud970hp spectre battery drainasus vp278q pnasdaq mosytqqq stockabattis bioceuticals stock pricewhat time is the lunar eclipse tonight central time zonepfestockcambridge audio cxuwtfc stock pricerilix vr scenariosmgee stock pricesell samsung galaxy s4 cexhp pavilion 15 au123cl touchscreen laptop intel core i5recro pharma stocksnh p6410bnreadynas plexttnp stockswitch2tmobile comwndw stockstop code irql_not_less_or_equal windows 10mindfxharmy's despecialized editionsennheiser ie80 reviewnyse vrtvnasdaq aptocytomic the dropwmcbhp 260 p026nikon view nx2 macmyhbbsmx stocktunnelblick vs viscosityprataap snackszenvpnrt ax88uanker soundbuds sport nb10 reviewceqp stockchoricogelyyflml stockadmp newsmsbi stock pricebitcoin price worldcoinindexbest buy x900ewyze cam amazonnh l9i tdpmightype fontwhy do runners breathe heavily after a sprint racedwt premarkettigerstream reviewparasound a23lenovo t470p reviewgnty stockepzm stock pricenasdaq cdtifvcb stockipdn stocknasdaq ophtaerie pharmaceuticals stockili wearable translator costsony 930d 65 inchwmhikodi crackdown in usaunikoingold priceclf stock pricevdrm newsmjna stock priceohrp stock priceasus transformer pro t304geely stock in us dollarstexrail share pricebld nzxtmost torrented moviesfujifilm s3500 reviewnavmii usarecover autosave excelcnet powerbeats 2crmt stockgoogle nls 1304 25nasdaq esndqlysnasdaq ntlatransgenomic stockwww cornhub comvcyt stockhsii stockwireless charging paused s8nyse tmstdbpower t20 projector manualgarmin drivesmart 61 lmt d reviewnasdaq sedgsamsung u28e590d specstxmd stock price todaybissell crosswave best buyassassin's creed freedom cry gamestopishares aoanyse srgcanon mp640 driver macbiolife referralapple iphone 5s 16gb gold price in india flipkarttriforce traderscyx stock49s405 reviewconduent stock pricethe virtual reality headset tf2what is jnugcalxedanetgear ac1200 walmartnuvision duo 10 reviewnyse hscuwt etfbelkin ac1200 setuptgtx stock price targetostk earningsuaa tickerxhdrthunderhill west track mapvívofit3 garmin vivofitessent rate findersoundalive equalizersamsung c430w reviewpotnetwork stock pricetecknitnyse sktmves stockdillards stock price historyjbl synchros s400btnasdaq ppbiemlp stockipix stockrite aid mariposawd easystore reviewkpit share priceabattis bioceuticals corpmd101ll a specslexg stocknwmhcrqeblink time watch tescoredfin stock priceamd capsaicin and creamxtlbbdp s6500 reviewwpcs stock pricebauhn speakerphased vs fazednasdaq zngaprodigy usernames and passwordslgv20 sprintvaluetronicsklse market watchoperfishares hdvlan9514 raspberry pistop code irql_not_less_or_equal windows 10sb3851 c0avgo price target