Edible New Orleans, Fall 2010

The greatest bookstore in the universe, Kitchen Arts & Letters, resides in the middle of a bustling block on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.  Many passersby comment that they have lived in the neighborhood for years without noticing the storefront on Lexington Avenue. But there it has been, since 1983, where owner Nach Waxman has stocked every imaginable title on food and wine, from obscure Indian cookbooks to the latest coffee table tomes of world-renowned chefs.

Exiled from New Orleans to New York following the failure of the federal levee system, I fortuitously found myself working as a clerk at Kitchen Arts & Letters. There, I assisted Mario Batali with his holiday shopping, garbled in French with chef-deity Alain Ducasse, and, most importantly, helped innumerable customers find the perfect cookbook for every occasion.

I also had the responsibility of packing books for out-of-town customers. Above our shipping workstation hung a handwritten note, dated September 29th, 1990. The yellowed card, decorated with a swamp-themed cartoon of a crawfish and alligator dining on rotisserie armadillos, had arrived all the way from Marthaville, LA, a speed-and-you-miss-it community west of Natchitoches. The letter’s author had written to request a copy of Delights and Prejudices, the now long out-of-print memoir of the famed epicure James Beard.  The note was signed Kenneth F. Smith, then a young man with a fondness for cookbooks but, by the time I first saw the note, the celebrated head chef of legendary New Orleans restaurant Upperline.

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