The Prune Gourmet" nestles up to "Plum Crazy." An entire shelf is devoted to the nuances of herb cooking, another to chiles and peppers and one more to the Alice Waters Chez Panisse oeuvre. You have little doubt that you are in California when you browse The Cook's Library on 3rd Street. Here you also find the culinary novelties, the "It's a Wrap!" and "Wrap It Ups" that, you joke, will become tomorrow's fondue, until you are reminded that fondue has already gone cookbook retro, along with crock pots, souffles and pot roast.
The Cook's Library is hardly provincial; books take you "In a Persian Kitchen" and to "The Korean Kitchen." There are sections dedicated to Ethiopia, Thailand and Morocco, English imports (yes, England has a cuisine) and tomes in French. And although dabblers and amateurs are welcome, it is a serious store, catering, as it were, to professionals. Angeli's Evan Kleiman is always on the lookout for new Italian; Campanile's Nancy Silverton ordered Viennese pastry books; a South American chef flies up to L.A. twice a year to restock his library; and when the Food Network's "Two Fat Ladies" were in town for a "Tonight Show" appearance, one stopped in for some down-home American cookbooks.
Ellen Rose, who opened the demure shop with the comfy couch and classy jazz music in 1989, says it's easy to distinguish the chefs from the hoi polloi: The chefs are the ones in white. "They usually come in between meals," Rose says. "When someone is opening up a restaurant, they do research. During game season, chefs want books on game. They're always looking for salad ideas."
Only a few miles away is Burbank's Cook Books by Janet Jarvits, whose inventory is a little more, well, eccentric. With 15,000 used cookbook titles, Jarvits does not take the word "obscure" lightly. One section is relinquished, alphabetically by state, to those charity cookbooks with the plastic ring binders put out by the likes of the 1972 Democratic Women's Club of Florida and Junior Leagues ad nauseam.
The 4-year-old store--a long warehouse-like space with a high ceiling and KRTH on the radio--attracts three types: the "user types," who love to try out new (make that old) recipes; the "reader types," who savor cookbooks but never cook; and the "books-for-looks collector types." The books-for-lookers can peer into Javitz's display case filled with rare titles, from a 1710 printing of "Royal Cookery" to the 1965 camp classic "The Gay Cookbook," with its recipe for--remember, we said 1965--"Swish steak."
Chefs and restaurateurs, she says, either have a task at hand--finessing a brownie, say--or are researching food history (Wolfgang Puck's wife, Barbara Lazaroff, checked Asian restaurant decor to design ObaChine). They rarely come in for the kitschy stuff: "Lewd Food" or "The Secret of Cooking for Cats." Those titles are for the tourists.