Debbie Lindsey is the co-owner (along with partner Philipe LaMancusa) of Kitchen Witch Cookbooks (631 Toulouse St., 504-528-8382; www.kwcookbooks.com), a French Quarter bookshop specializing in rare, hard to find, out-of-print and used books on food and cooking. Lindsey spoke to Gambit about her favorite cookbooks and vintage cookbooks.
How did Kitchen Witch get its start?
Lindsey: We opened three months after Hurricane Katrina and couldn't have done it without such a great landlord. It was the brainchild of my partner, Philipe, and [the space] had just been vacated by a record shop. He went by and looked and said, "Honey, do you want to go into business with me and open up Kitchen Witch Cookbooks?" He had it in another location some years before. I said, "Hell no! Are you crazy?" The next day, I was like, "OK, let's do it."
We started with his collection of 5,000 cookbooks and local new books. Now, we have about 9,000-10,000 cookbooks.
What are the most popular cookbooks?
L: Since we have so many out-of-town visitors — and locals looking for replacements — Paul Prudhomme's Louisiana Kitchen is probably our bestseller. The question people come in with is, "What's your best Cajun and Creole cookbook?" I take them straight to it. I tell them to tear it up — I want to see a roux on those pages.
We also have a lot of people who collect church cookbooks. We get a lot of chefs looking for French or Italian modern cuisine cookbooks. We have bartenders come in looking for cocktail books. Of course, we just have a lot of people wandering around and finding something that reminds them of their mom — a Betty Crocker or Good Housekeeping (cookbook).
What's the oldest book you've had in the shop?
L: The oldest book we've ever had was from 1860. It was big, ancient and falling apart in the best possible way. Our oldest are probably from the 1920s and 1930s, and we have a lot from the 1960s. We do get in those gems from around the 1890s. We had The Anarchist Cookbook once, and we had to make sure to sell that to someone who was truly just a collector.
The Cook's Illustrated series is one of my favorites right now. I learned so much just standing there pricing them today. One of my favorite books to sell in here is Gumbo Tales by Sara Roahen. There's not a recipe in it, but she gives you the love and the history and the culture all told through food.