The Red Fire Truck Showcase from Books Though hard to miss, for Cooks in London’s posh Notting Hill neighborhood reveals little of the culinary utopia that lies within. Pass the mosaic threshold, depicting a cheerful chef balancing a tureen on top of an open book, and follow the wafting aromas of lunch to find a bookstore with a small but full-size test kitchen to the rear.
Books for Cooks exclusively sells culinary books from around the world and is first and foremost a bookstore. But they also try out recipes in the shop from the cookbooks on display. Eric Treuille, a dapper Frenchman, co-owns the store with his wife, Rosie Kindersley. Treuille is also the resident chef, preparing lunch using one of the thousands of cookbooks on display. From Tuesday to Friday, he serves a starter, a main dish and a dessert at a price that defies the inflation of £7. A glass of wine costs extra £3.
Lunch menus are posted daily on Twitter and on the shop’s blackboard, and vary according to Treuille’s whims and fancy. “I never know until I get there in the morning,” she says, “I don’t want to plan ahead.” However, diners may want to plan ahead, considering the lines at the door and the variety of pastries that sell out quickly at the counter.
A handful of patio furniture and folding tables make up the seating area for diners. “We try to seat anyone anywhere on anything,” says Treuille. A kitchen’s thimble stirs as much culinary magic as hasselback eggplant pie, tikka masala enchiladas, and barbecue pork with corn fritters. Not to mention desserts like a nectarine caramel upside-down cake and pineapple puffs, all ripped from the cookbooks of the day, proudly displayed on the counter.
Treuille has no idea if the test kitchen has any effect on book sales. “I don’t see it that way,” she says emphatically, “No, no, no. Test cooking, for me, is about enjoying cooking. The people who come are like coming to my house. It doesn’t matter if people buy a book or not. I don’t mix the two together. I just want people to come and have a proper meal and enjoy it. It’s not commercial, I don’t run a restaurant. Is different.”
The store functions like most bookstores and hosts book launches for cookbook authors. But even in this, there’s the special Books for Cooks touch: Launches are accompanied by chefs cooking from the celebrated cookbook, so attendees can sample what the book has to offer. The store sells a large number of books related to the culinary arts, including biographies, food history, food fiction, and books on nutrition, among others.
One of the signs at Books for Cooks says, “Ask before taking notes from books.” One imagines intrepid home cooks and chefs-in-training surreptitiously planning meals in the tight quarters of this cookbook store, while devouring the daily specials. But whether or not you’re inside to buy a book, or the platform of the daythis charming establishment is a culinary enthusiast’s dream come true.