In today’s world, a cook doesn’t need to go offline to find all the recipes, technique tutorials, and ingredient primers they could possibly need. Still, people are apparently logging off in the kitchen: Cookbook sales are up 25 percent, according to the market research firm NPD Group. This is good news for the rare-book seller Elizabeth Young, who has been hard at work buying books, reaching out to authors, and building out her first brick-and-mortar. Opening tomorrow, lizzyoung bookseller promises to be one of the city’s most unique resources for cooks. It’s a space in which they can nerd out and dig through the history of food and food culture.
To mark the shop’s opening, Young will host the celebrated author and Gastronomica founder Darra Goldstein for a signing of the new 25th-anniversary edition of her The Georgian Feast. It’s a fitting way to kick off things off for a shop stocking books published from this year all the way back to 1510. And young already has more events scheduled: for Kara Newman’s Nightcap on December 13 and, tentatively, Amanda Schuster’s New York Cocktails on December 23. Cocktails are, clearly, a big interest of Young’s.
“A friend’s dad worked at Sardi’s for 40 years, up until his mid-80s. He was there during the heyday,” she says. “He was one who got me into [cocktails].”
According to Young, the shop’s selection is composed of roughly 60 percent old or out-of-print books and 40 percent new books. In the brand-new category, there is Jello Girls, a new edition of Elizabeth David’s Christmas with a foreword by Alice Waters, and Sushi Art Cookbook. Her selection will also be heavy on food politics writing from the likes of Marion Nestle and others, as well as memoirs.
Rare books have been Young’s trade, and in her time she’s acquired the archives of the influential food writer M.F.K. Fisher. Young is selling the complete archive (the price tag is a whopping $225,000), and it includes Fisher’s library of 6,500 books, correspondence the author and friends and loved ones, as well as pencil drawings, newspaper clippings, and other items. The store’s other greatest prize may be its first trade edition of the quintessential American cookbook, Irma S. Rombauer’s The Joy of Cooking ($2250). Young’s copy is from 1936, which was the first year the book’s expanded version was sold. Other books are much more niche, specific, or obscure, like Trout of the World.
Mixologists will bug out over a 1908 cocktail and wine book by one Louis Muckenstrum, called Louis’ Mixed Drinks With Hints for the Care & Serving of Wines ($275). Other books aren’t for cooking, like 2000’s limited-edition La Conversation: Marc Meneau and Hans Gissinger ($300, in French and English), which features conversations and photographs between Meneau, a chef, and Gissinger, a photographer.
There’s also plenty of old ephemera and menus — too much to count, Young says. There’s sheet music like “Jelly Roll Fox Trot” ($40) and two decades’ worth of menus from London’s Cafe Au Pere de Nico ($8,500), signed by world dignitaries and celebrities. One of the more culturally resonant curios is a six-page menu ($60) from an old Oakland restaurant called the New Shanghai Cafe. That spot was part of a sprawl of clubs, restaurants, and herb shops run by the herbalist Fong Wan, who made himself the prominent public face of his businesses in the 1930s, a time when the Chinese Exclusion Act still prohibited Chinese immigration. That menu is the sort of thing that Young gets particularly excited about, and which makes her store so interesting — because of what it reveals about the food as well as the culture of its time, the good and the bad.
“I have all these menus that tell a specific story about a place and time,” she says. “Certain things are going to disappear because there isn’t a paper trail.”
lizzyoung bookseller, 212 Degraw St., nr. Henry St.; 917-909-1488