Getting to know Tim from Books for Cooks
How did Books for Cooks begin?
Books for Cooks began in 1983. In 2000, harbouring a dream of opening our own culinary bookstore, we responded to a one-line ad in the newspaper and an hour later – and with a very sore credit card – we owned a bookstore: Books for Cooks.
Who is Books for Cooks aimed towards?
We are an independent specialist new and antiquarian bookstore. We have books for professional chefs, restauranteurs, artisanal food producers, gastronauts, home cooks and armchair gourmets. We also stock food and drink-related ephemera such as menus, pamphlets, vintage advertising etc. Whether you want to learn to cook, enjoy a good read or collect rare and special cookbooks – we’re your destination.
Where do most of your books come from?
We have about 45000 books in store (and in storage). About half our stock is new. The balance is a mixture of out-of-print, second-hand, vintage and antiquarian. New books arrive every day.
We source new books from around the world. As for the rest, we look far and wide every day for interesting books on food and drink. Although most are cookbooks, we also have books on food history, sociology, food politics, wine, drinks, kitchen gardens, restaurant design, food literature and biographies – pretty much any topic that references food and drink. We also buy books in store every day. Our oldest books are from the 18th century; our newest will release next week.
What’s one of your most popular books?
Our most popular author is Yotam Ottolenghi. We sell lots of his books (and have done so for over 10 years) and we love to cook from them. Other perennial favourites include Stephanie Alexander’s Cook’s Companion, Larousse Gastronomique and books by authors such as Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Diana Henry, Jane Grigson, Claudia Roden and Nigel Slater.
A current favourite is local author Sharon Flynn’s Ferment for Good. It’s very hard to say what our favourite cookbook is – we have hundreds at home and are always cooking from a new one. If pushed, my favourite book would probably be Elizabeth David’s A Book of Mediterranean Food first published in 1951. It’s a beautiful whimsical inspirational cookbook illustrated with lovely line drawings by John Minton.
We understand you’re an avid cook – what’s your favourite recipe?
It changes daily. We both love to cook. It depends on what is in season, who we are eating with, perhaps what bottle of wine we are opening and many other things. We love to cook good food that we can share with friends and family. A family favourite at the moment is the Bread Chicken from Colin Fassnidge’s Four Kitchens; a similar recipe is also in Karen Martini’s Everyday
Have you served anyone famous?
We regularly hold book events and launches in-store, usually every fortnight or so. Over the years we have been fortunate to host events with many great chefs and food writers including Ferran Adria, Massimo Bottura, Antonio Carluccio, Yotam Ottolenghi, Tom Parker-Bowles, James Halliday, Stephanie Alexander, Maggie Beer, the Master Chef crew, Curtis Stone, Heston Blumenthal, Peter Kuravita, Adriano Zumbo, George Calombaris, Andrew McConnell to name a few. We also love supporting new and local authors. We are a destination for food lovers and have been visited by many high profile people in the food and wine industry including, Nigella Lawson, Marco Pierre-White, Pierre Koffman, Eric Ripert.
How important, in your opinion, are independent book stores?
You can tell the character of a city by its bookstores. Melbourne is blessed with a great number of independent bookstores of all shapes and sizes. It speaks volumes for the cultural life of Melbourne that we have so many good bookstores. Melbourne is a City of Literature under the UNESCO Cultural Cities program and the second such city in the world.
Independent bookstores are curated by their owners and staff and provide a wealth of knowledge about their chosen specialties. They reflect and respond to their local communities in ways that online and big-box retail businesses can never do. Bookstores are about stories and the most interesting stores are always to be found in independent bookstores.
Why do you think you’ve survived in a world where other bookstores haven’t?
I’d take issue with the implication that bookstores are failing. They aren’t. There are more bookstores in Australia then 5 years ago. Independent bookstore numbers are growing world-wide. The book is not dead either – there are more books published every year than ever before.
We are a very unique bookstore – we are the only specialist in Australia with our range and similar stores can only be found in San Francisco, New York, London and Paris. We often stock books that are hard to find or out of print. We love food and wine and books… and hopefully it shows.