→ Rinalda Aay
115–121 Victoria Street, Melbourne
Books for Cooks is a Melbourne staple – a delectable marriage of literary and food cultures, packed into a building bright with natural light in the middle of the Queen Victoria Market. If you visit on the days the markets are alive and full, you can hear the fruit and veg traders plying their wares five metres out the back door. What could be better than fresh fruit, a coffee and an armful of books?
The store has that idyllic old-world bookshop charm, a miscellany of bookshelves filled to the seams with rows and rows of books all about food. Just as interesting are the antique artefacts – old whisks, gorgeous copperware – perched atop shelves or arranged in convenient corners. Foodie or not, the vibe of this place alone is reason to visit. Be prepared to browse for hours through food history, wine tasting, anthropology, cookery and more. Modern cookbooks? Check. Something more antiquarian? Check. Paper ephemera (think menus, pamphlets)? Check. There’s something for everyone, from professional chef to inept uni student and everywhere in between. With so much to look through, if you’re after something specific you’re best to ask the staff, who know the store and its contents inside out.
The owners and operators of Books for Cooks, Tim and Amanda, purchased Books for Cooks in 2000 after seeing an ad in The Age that simply read: Cookbook shop for sale. Since then, the store has moved locations multiple times, become a Vic Market trader and formed around itself a vibrant community of the culinarily curious. Books for Cooks takes great pride in running the store based on personal experience and customers’ wants and needs. While they may stock a title because of its popularity (or its aesthetic, or its history), the main criterion is this: Is this a book we would want to take home?
Tim and Amanda are both are bibliophiles, food lovers and astonishingly dedicated collectors. Tim tells me that getting his hands on unique cookery books is a lifestyle – he and Amanda have dragged their kids to every yard sale, market and antique store, always searching for the next thing to put on their shelves. The books lining the walls of the store are only the tip of the iceberg; there are just as many titles tucked away in storage, waiting for someone to ask about them. And if they don’t stock a book, don’t worry. They can probably hunt it down for you.
There’s probably plenty more to say about this delightful specialist bookstore, but I think Tim sums it up best: ‘We’re a very old-fashioned bookstore. We’re not always fast – if you want the book yesterday, we may not be the best place for you. But if you want the best advice, or want to know the best barbecue book, or the best place to get food, or if you want to bump into a chef or two? We’re the place for you.’
Books for Cooks will feature in BSP's upcoming food magazine – Forkful: Melbourne food stories.